Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Replay's the Thing

As you have no doubt noticed, the NFL’s replay system can be confusing.  Not only has the system undergone some significant changes in the last couple of years, but coaches and officials can still foul up the procedures for requesting and conducting replays. 
Aside from these administrative issues, though, it can be hard just to keep track of the types of calls that can be reviewed at all.  So, to get you ready for another week of games, I thought I’d set out in one place two categories of plays and rulings:  those that can be reviewed, and those that can’t.

Since you won’t always have this page handy when you’re watching a game, I’ve tried to distill the items below into a few general rules, or what I call “Replayisms”:

1.    Pretty much any play that occurred in the end zone can be reviewed.

2.     If change in possession is riding on a call, it can be reviewed.

3.     Rulings involving the administration of the game cannot be reviewed.

4.     Whether a penalty should or shouldn’t have been called cannot be reviewed (there are very few exceptions to this, and they are listed below).

5.     Scoring plays and turnovers are, by rule, automatically reviewed by off-field officials, who may require the referee to review them.




·  Scoring plays (off course, we know that these are all automatically reviewed), including whether a pass was caught and if the runner (i.e., the player with the ball) broke the plane of the goal line

·  Whether a pass was complete, incomplete or intercepted in the end zone, at the goal line or at a boundary line

·  Elements of a passing play:

o  Whether the pass was complete (or intercepted)
o  Whether the pass was caught in or out of bounds
o  Touching of a forward pass by an ineligible receiver
o  Touching of a forward pass by a defensive player
o  Forward pass or fumble by quarterback (see my post on the Tuck Rule)

o  Illegal forward pass beyond the line of scrimmage or after a change in possession
o  Whether a pass was a forward or backward pass

·  Whether the runner stayed in bounds, or the spot of the ball when the player went out of bounds

·  Recovery of a loose ball in or out of bounds

·  As you know, plays ruled turnovers are automatically reviewed and coaches aren’t allowed to challenge them.  However, a team that thought it had recovered a fumble can make a challenge when the officials ruled that the ball was dead when the runner lost it (meaning “no fumble”).  For example:

o The runner was ruled down by defensive contact.  When the officials say that the runner was “down by contact” when he lost the ball, the ball was dead when fumbled and the opposing team can’t recover it. 

o  The runner was ruled out of bounds when the turnover occurred

o  If a player fumbles after catching a pass, but the officials ruled that the pass was incomplete

o  The officials ruled that either the player or the loose ball was out of bounds

·  Forward progress, only with respect to a first down determination or at the goal line

·  Touching of a kick

·  Where the ball passed or touched any part of the goal post on field goals or extra point attempts, except when the call is that it passed between the outer edges of the uprights (click here for a recent example of this exception)

·  The number of players on the field at the snap

·  Whether there was an illegal forward handoff

·  When a loose ball strikes any object, such as a guide wire, video camera or video board



·  Runner ruled down by contact when no fumble occurs (this impacts the spot of the ball for the next play)

·  Recovery of a loose ball that does not involve the end zone or a boundary line

·  Administrative rulings, such as:

o   Status of the game clock

o   Proper down

o   Penalty administration

·  Forward progress not related to the goal line or first down

·  Field goal or extra point attempts where the bar crosses above either upright


·  Inadvertent Whistles (this is a controversial and complicated issue that merited a post of its own)


I hope this helps you as we head into another weekend of NFL football.  And remember the standard for reversing a call:  the replays must provide the referee with “indisputable visual evidence” that the ruling on the field was made in error.

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