If you watch football at all, you're obviously aware of the whole "illegal hit" issue. Yes, the topic has been beat to death. It's been beaten so badly that the discussion of the illegal hits itself will probably be fined later this week. So why am I bringing this up now? Well, it's been on my mind for awhile now, but even more now that we're seeing the effect of these calls in games.
I was watching ESPN tonight, and I saw that on Around The Horn and PTI they were discussing the question "Should illegal hits be replayed by the officials?" The most popular answer to this question was "No, they should not." And I find that understable with the justification the people on ESPN were using. They thought it would be interfering with the game unnecessarily (meaning, if they start reviewing hits, what's to stop officials from reviewing holding calls, etc.), along with delaying the game even more than it is (with other reviews that determine catches, ball positioning, etc). I think that is a fair argument.
I feel integrity of the game is being ruined by these extremely subjective calls. I'm all for player safety (and really, who isn't?), but I don't think the NFL's current approach is as preventive as they believe it to be. The NFL currently wants officials to flag a hit if they have any uncertainty of a hit's legality. The NFL has stated that this helps protect players. Let's stop there for a second. How does a little colored piece of cloth protect a player right after they've already been hit and are potentially suffering a concussion? It doesn't. So, the next argument there would probably be that 'by throwing the flag, other players are now less likely to hit someone illegally, because they fear that they will be flagged as well'. Again, that is ridiculous, because of the uncertainty of which hits are legal, and which aren't. And throwing a flag isn't necessarily going to help a player further understand what hits are legal/illegal.
Another issue is the hasted interpretation of these hits. By this, I mean the ruling on these hits are being made on split second decisions, and it's hard to determine their legitimacy that quickly. I understand that other calls in the game are made in similar situations, but there's a big difference between trying to determine a holding/facemask/pass interference than there is a questionable hit. That difference is the large amount of subjectivity I mentioned earlier. I know pass interference has always been open to a lot of subjectvity, and some of you might think "Well why not just review PI, too?" and the answer to that is that it doesn't have to do with player safety like these hits do. One more quick note about the problem with these calls is the angle they're being viewed from. The line judge might see a hit and think it's perfectly fine, while the umpire sees something totally different and decides to flag a play. Again, that subjectvity is terrible for the accuracy of the game.
I'm sure the NFL is aware of the negative aspects of their attempts to enhance player safety. And maybe some sacrifices do need to be made at the cost of the integrity of the game in order to protect players. I just hate to see a flag on a play for a hit that officials aren't even sure is a penalty. Think about it: 15 yards and an automatic first down can be pretty significant in a game. It's a shame that a game could be unfairly changed just on a call like this.
My proposition, then, is to make these hits challengeable. I think this would reduce some of the sacrificed integrity, while enhancing player safety. This would include questionable hits being subject to booth review in the final 2 minutes of the second and fourth quarters, along with overtime. Is this too extreme? Maybe, but then how about just make the hits subject to booth review in the final 2 minutes, and not have them challengeable by coaches? I just can't stand to see outcomes of games changed with the crazy amount of subjectivity put into these calls.
What do you think about this?