The challenge system should remain in place, but not in its current form.
The league made a worthwhile modification to the system this past season by making all scoring plays reviewable. I would go one step further and make all potential turnovers automatically reviewable, as well.
Just as touchdowns have the ultimate impact on a game, turnovers play as big a role in winning or losing as any non-scoring statistic. The plays are too important – and too tricky, whether knees or elbows or calves or whatever are on the ground before the ball comes out – to make a coach ponder the loss of a challenge and potential timeout to make sure the call is right.
I also would not limit the number of times a coach can challenge plays, as long as he continues to be right. Currently the limit is two challenges, but a coach is rewarded with a third challenge if he's successful on his first two. Bat .500 and you're out.
That doesn't sit well. A coach should only lose the opportunity to challenge if he loses both of his challenges. Two strikes and you're out works for me. If he challenges a play and gets it overturned, he shouldn't lose one of his two challenges in the same way he doesn't lose a timeout.
Now, that may sound like it's inviting too many challenges, but if scoring plays and turnovers are already reviewed, and with the current rules in place for what's subject to challenge and what's not – the spot of the ball is only reviewable as it relates to a first down, for instance, and penalties are still not subject to review – I don't think we'd be asking for too many challenges. There just wouldn't be any "penalty" for a coach if he's right, which now there is. Theoretically, a coach could correct three mistakes by the officials by halftime and not be able to challenge anything else the rest of the game. That doesn't make sense, except in the "we don't want the games to take too long" kind of way.
I understand the argument for doing away with the challenge system and having a replay official in the booth call for reviews whenever necessary. That wouldn't be the worst system in the world, I grant that.
But what I don't like about that type of system is it sends a message to the officials on the field that their calls don't matter, because replay can fix everything. I don't like what that attitude or mindset might do to the way officials approach their craft. The system needs to make the officials on the field recognize that their calls are still crucial. They'll be better officials in that context.
Otherwise, whether or not a player catches the ball or stays in bounds won't be their priority because replay will always correct that. They'll just be looking for penalties, because those can't be reviewed. Is that what we want, officials whose primary objective is to hunt for penalties?
I don't think that would make for a better game. That's why I like the challenge system. The job of the officials on the field is still to get it right. The most important plays – touchdowns and turnovers – are reviewed automatically, and the coaches can challenge other perceived wrongs.
So let's keep the challenge system, but make it a little better.
The coach's challenge system is a remnant from the roots of the NFL's replay review system that is outdated, flawed and needs to be discontinued.
Hey, isn't getting the call right the whole idea of replay review? Well, the coach's challenge system is just another game within the game and it guarantees nothing except inconsistency.
For starters, why should coaches bear responsibility for officiating games? Don't coaches have enough to do just to coach their teams?
Coaches coach, players play and officials officiate. That's the way it should be. Officials shouldn't coach and coaches especially shouldn't officiate because coaches don't want to get the call right, they just want to win. We know they'll do what they can to use the rules to their team's advantage.
Isn't that what a coach does when he hurries his offense to the line of scrimmage to snap the ball before the opposing coach can throw his red flag to challenge a call that clearly appears to have been in error? A system that allows for deceit isn't good for the game.
Look, if we're going to stop the game at all to get a call right, then let's make sure we get them all right, or at least try to get them all right. A system that allows for coaches to derail the pursuit of truth is a failed process.
And since when has justice been assigned a limit to its reach? You can only correct three bad calls? What if the fourth bad call decides the game? Why even bother correcting the first three if you can't correct the most important one of all? Plus, why should an overruled challenge penalize the pursuit of justice? It's not the coach's fault that TV had a bad angle. We're trying to get the call right, right?
Coaches have to be clairvoyant to effectively use the challenge system. Imagine a coach trying to explain to the media after the game that he decided not to challenge an apparent bad call in the first quarter because he was sure there would be a more important bad call in the fourth quarter and he didn't want to run out of challenges.
For the 2011 season, the NFL instituted a review system for all plays resulting in scores. Did anybody feel the game was unnecessarily delayed by that process this season? Yeah, it disrupted the game's rhythm, but you can't use the replay-review system at all without disrupting the flow of the game. It's become a necessary evil that players and coaches know they must overcome.
Getting the call right is the No. 1 priority of replay review and the coach's challenge system doesn't get it right often enough. Remember that play in the Oakland game, when Mike McCarthy stood along the sideline with the challenge flag in his hand, not knowing whether to throw it because there was a clip during the return and he didn't know if that meant there was no score or whether because there was a score the play was subject to automatic review? Remember how long it took for the officials to figure that one out?
"Throw that flag," the crowd chanted.
At that point, I was absolutely certain the coach's challenge system had to go because it had turned the pursuit of justice into comedy.
Here's some advice: Don't worry about coach's challenge protocol; just stop the game and review the play. Review them all. Just get it right.
What do you think?