The NFL has ruled, doing the only thing it could possibly do after its replacement refs botched a game-changing call on Monday Night Football.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass into the end zone. Several players, including Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings, jumped into the air in an attempt to catch the ball.
While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game. It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay.
When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown.
Replay Official Howard Slavin stopped the game for an instant replay review. The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable. That is not the case in the field of play, only in the end zone.
Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review.
The result of the game is final.
The NFL really had no choice here. The replacement ref’s bad decision impacted more than just the outcome of one game. ESPN reported this morning that as much as $150 million may have changed hands as a result of that call thanks to gambling, fantasy football, etc. Liability is surely on the league’s mind at this point.
Officials and their bad calls change the outcome of sports all the time. In the English Premiere League over the weekend, Manchester United benefited from a howler of a call that gifted them with a penalty kick after a United player took an obvious dive. United made the kick and went on to defeat Liverpool 2-1. That call not only benefited MU and hurt the other clubs contending for the league title, but also kept Liverpool at the bottom of the league table and will come back to haunt them even if they get their season turned around. The officiating crew in that came were no replacements. They were regular league officials, and typical of regular refs in the EPL, ManU got the benefit of a call that other clubs would be unlikely to get. The week before that, officials robbed Everton of two goals against Newcastle, leaving the game drawn at 2-2 when Everton should have won it 4-2. That cost Everton two points in the standings and gifted Newcastle a point they did not deserve. Those were also regular league officials.
But the NFL has locked out its unionized officials over a contract dispute, and chosen to replace them with other officials, most of whom have no experience at all at the NFL level. The NFL has shown a cavalier attitude both to the quality of the officiating and to the safety issues that have arisen. It has also made a laughingstock of itself, with even Hall of Famers like Troy Aikman and Steve Young trashing the league for letting things get to this point. Last night, social media exploded with fans of both teams and no team in particular blasting the NFL. Full disclosure for myself: I’m a Cowboys fan so I don’t like either team that played in Monday night’s game, and had just about fallen asleep from boredom when that play happened. It shocked me awake enough to write about it at midnight. The league is on the hook for this call in ways it never has been before, because of its tactics in the labor dispute.
The whole replacement refs episode has tarnished the NFL’s reputation, and brought up affirmative action and other issues quite outside football. It’s a big mess in a highly litigious culture, and league’s lawyers likely advised the league that it had to uphold the Seattle decision in order to limit potential lawsuits. Once the calls were made on the field, there was no way to undo them. But someone somewhere who lost big is still going to test the league with a lawsuit.