Column: Reviewing pass interference creates more problems than it fixes 


In sports, we’re gradually moving toward a world in which human error on the part of referees is minimized, or eliminated altogether. The athletes are allowed to make mistakes, but the referees, umpires and officials are not.  

In the MLB, calls for robot umpires have never been louder, especially after an unusually poorly-umpired postseason. The NFL has attempted to get ahead of those demands with a major change introduced this season which allows coaches to challenge pass interference calls, both on plays where the foul was called and on plays where it possibly should have been. 

The change was intended to reduce controversy. Instead, it has only created more. 

Pass interference reviews have been an issue all season long, though they reached a breaking point this past week. In the first quarter of the Houston-Baltimore game, Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins was absolutely mauled by Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the endzone on a fourth-down heave. Inexplicably, no pass interference was called on the play, so Houston head coach Bill O’Brien threw the challenge flag. Even more inexplicably, after the review, the call stood: no pass interference.

I understand the hesitation to overturn no-calls. After all, you could probably call pass interference on the receiver or defender on nearly every pass. I agree that the rule should only be used on blatant calls missed by referees. But it doesn’t get any more blatant than this. 

The Hopkins play, partly due to his superstar status and partly due to the stakes of the play, has drawn a ton of criticism, but it’s far from an isolated incident. In Week 6, when the Giants’ Golden Tate couldn’t use his arms to catch the ball because they were pinned to his side by a Patriots defender, the call still wasn’t made after review. I could list at least 10 more examples. All season, the review team in New York has refrained from calling PI if it’s not called on the field.  

Since Week 4, only one of the 33 pass interference challenges has been successful. In other words, the replay team has stuck with the call on the field in 97% of cases during that span. That’s not being cautious; that’s negligence. The NFL has decided it’s not going to use the very rule it created, and instead establish a new cause for frustration and subjectivity. 

It’s simple: either call the PI reviews properly, or throw out the rule altogether.  

At this point, no one knows what pass interference is. No players know what they can get away with, and no coaches know when it’ll be egregious enough to win a challenge.  

The rule change was created largely in response to the absurdly horrendous missed call in last year’s NFC Championship game, in which a Saints receiver was rocked before the ball was halfway there. But it’s fair to wonder if that play occurred next week, was challenged and reviewed, if pass interference still wouldn’t be called.  

I say eliminate the reviewable PI altogether. Pass interference is always going to be a subjective, murky area, and it’s impossible to quantify the difference between “clear and obvious” and acceptable contact. This won’t be the last time this rule causes controversy, and when it happens on a bigger stage than a Week 11 regular season game, the outrage will only be more vicious — and deserved. 

Sure, scrapping the rule means going back to the way things were, and that means more missed calls like the now-infamous one in the NFC Championship game. However, not only is that just an inevitable part of the game, but this will ultimately cause less sources of controversy than the current rule. Everything in slow motion looks like pass interference. And apparently, even when it clearly looks like PI, it still won’t get called.  

Add reviewable pass interference to the NFL’s ever-growing list of incompetent executive decision-making. Make the correct calls, or better yet, remove it from the rulebook altogether.  

Thumbnail photo courtesy of (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Andrew Morrison is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at He tweets @asmor24.

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