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Point, counterpoint: Are you in favor of the coach's challenge system?

Posted Oct 9, 2012

Vic KetchmanPackers.com Editor Vic Ketchman says no.

Coaches have enough to do to guide and manage their teams. They shouldn’t be expected to officiate the game, too.

It’s an unfair expectation that coaches should be responsible for correcting mistakes made by the game’s officials. It’s not that we should expect officials to be perfect, it’s that we have the means for an observer in the press box to detect those mistakes and get the call right. So why do we saddle coaches with that responsibility?

Problem No. 1—The coach’s challenge system is structured in such a way that a coach can be penalized for using it. In other words, the more mistakes the officials make that the coach needs to correct, the more likely it is the coach won’t have a challenge left to correct a mistake late in the game that might decide the outcome. In that structure, the coach is being penalized twice for having his game officiated poorly.

The coach has to ask himself: Should I challenge this obvious mistake, or should I allow my team to be penalized by it so I’ll have a challenge to use later in the game on a bigger mistake? What if there isn’t a bigger mistake later in the game? Do coaches have to be clairvoyant, too?

Why not correct both mistakes, the little one and the big one? Isn’t that the whole intent of the replay review system, to correct mistakes? College football has a replay guy in the press box. When he thinks something needs a quick look, he stops the game and takes a look. Sensible approach, right?

Problem No. 2—Before the coach knows whether he should spend a challenge, he usually has to wait for a member of his staff to have seen a replay of the play in question. Meanwhile, the coach’s counterpart is rushing his team to the line of scrimmage to snap the ball before the challenge flag flies. It’s a blatant attempt to cheat the system. That’s a good system?

Throw the flag blindly? Risk losing a challenge you’ll need later on a fishing expedition now? In effect, the coach’s challenge system becomes a game of “chicken.”

Again, isn’t the intent to get the call right?

Problem No. 3—A bad coach’s challenge record or misusage of the coach’s challenge system will draw the fans’ ire and land the coach on the hot seat. Fire the coach because he was out of challenges when the big challenge arrived? In other words, fire the coach because he used his challenges?

I wonder what Lombardi would’ve thought about this? No, I think I know.

Mike SpoffordPackers.com Staff Writer Mike Spofford says yes.

I like the coach’s challenge system because it requires a potential error to be significant enough for a head coach to stop the game, but I would tweak the current system a bit. I would change the rule that limits a coach to two challenges and gives him a third challenge, only if he’s right on his first two. I think the limit should be two only if the coach is wrong on both.

Don’t punish a head coach for being right. If he challenges a call and is right, he should still have two challenges left. If he gets one wrong, he can only be wrong one more time. The limit should be two “wrongs,” not two challenges.

Mike McCarthy ran into this in Week 4 against the Saints. He mistakenly challenged a Jordy Nelson catch in the first half and was wrong. In the second half, when it appeared Saints tight end Jimmy Graham had not caught a pass that was ruled a reception, McCarthy was in a tough spot. If he challenges the Graham catch, which was early in the third quarter, whether he’s right or wrong he’s out of challenges for the rest of the game.

It turned out the Graham catch was upheld (though I still think McCarthy was right), but even if it had been overturned, McCarthy still wouldn’t have had a challenge on the Darren Sproles kickoff return non-fumble in the fourth quarter. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

Now, my proposal might cause some (Vic?) to howl that it’s only going to lead to more challenges and more delays. Probably, but to that I’ll make a couple of points.

First, if the technology exists to get the call right, let’s get it right. Some might say turn everything over to the booth upstairs and take the coaches out of it, but I don’t want a 3-yard pass on second-and-10 holding up the game. If a coach thinks the play is significant enough and there’s been an error, he can challenge it. If not, play on.

Second, the NFL can easily do something about the delays by ending the lunacy of the referee going “under the hood.” If the official in the booth is fully trained and qualified, let him look at it and make the call. That way, everyone in the stadium and at home doesn’t have to watch the referee announce the play is being challenged, then jog 80 yards down to the other end of the field where the hood is, and then finally start watching the replays. Or maybe the TV audience uses that time to hustle to the fridge, I don’t know.

OK, so the guy in the booth in Seattle was supposedly not a replacement and he still botched it. I get that. But maybe the guy in the booth should be seen as the equivalent, experience-wise, pay-wise, etc., as the referee, and then qualified officials would aspire to the job. The league would be better for it, as long as the fight over money doesn’t lead to another union lockout.

Anyway, my point is most decisions can be made by the guy upstairs by the time the ref on the field gets to the hood. Make the call and move on.

I’m not interested in seeing the refs put on a show. I’m interested in the important calls being correct and the game continuing in an efficient manner.

I don’t think the coach’s challenge system needs to be scrapped to accomplish those goals. It just needs some modifications.

Cast your vote in the poll on the right, please.

 
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