The league’s expansion of replay review to include pass interference calls and non-calls makes NFL senior V.P. of officiating Al Riveron the most powerful man in football. He now has the ultimate authority, as to every game, to determine whether large chunks of field position will shift from one team to the other.
With great power, as the cliché goes, comes great responsibility. And that responsibility includes a need for transparency.
As to the most controversial call of Thursday night, an apparent phantom offensive pass interference call against Washington that was challenged by coach Jay Gruden, Riveron decided to uphold the ruling on the field. After the game, he declined to say much about the decision to a pool reporter.
“We’re not going to talk about what constituted it, because what happens here is the ruling on the field was offensive pass interference,” Riveron said. “And remember in replay, we start replay with the premise on the field that the call is correct. And unless we have clear and obvious visual evidence to overturn the ruling on the field, we will not do that. In this situation, there was not clear and obvious visual evidence to overturn it, so we let the ruling on the field stand.”
The TV copy of the play shows no interference as the ball arrives. It’s possible, however, that the push came earlier in what appeared to be a flag route, with the receiver gained separation by giving the defender a shove that the officials saw. Indeed, one of the broadcast angles shows that the official had reached for the flag and begun to throw it out before
It’s also possible that the referee explained this to Riveron, who was unable to pinpoint the moment of offensive pass interference based on the available TV angles.
If that’s the case, why wouldn’t Riveron just say that? It’s possible that he doesn’t want to highlight the reality that the replay process has an inherent flaw. When it comes to pass interference, plenty of pushing and shoving and jostling will happen while the ball is in the air, but before it — or the cameras — arrive. Absent cameras trained to all eligible receivers at all times, there will be situations where instances of called and uncalled interference will be unreviewable, because it will have happened away from the view of the sole device for allowing replay review.