How the NFL Can Fix Its Pass Interference Problem


After an obvious error in the NFC Championship game, the NFL voted to allow all pass interference - both offensive and defensive - penalties to be reviewable in 2019. The change was adopted as part of a one-year trial in response to a blown call late in the New Orleans Saints loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game. It sounds easy enough, but the league is going to have some serious issues. The NFL would be wise to take a page from its counterpart up north - the CFL - to solve its pass interference problem.


If you have ever eaten Buffalo wings slathered in hot sauce, you might wonder why you break out in a dripping sweat but your buddy just smiles as he eats a dozen or more. To you, the wings are hot, maybe even super-hot. To your buddy, not so much. While it is clear and obvious to you that those wings were hot, it might not be so clear to others. And therein lies the problem with the NFL's policy change on reviewing pass interference.

What may seem "clear and obvious" to one may not be so clear and obvious to another. As it stands, that is the current language used by the league in determining pass interference review. The NFL is going to have to define what "clear and obvious" restriction on playing the football really means. That's just part of the problem. 

The NFL is a passing league. There could be multiple reviews in one drive. The average review in the Canadian Football League took two full minutes when the league rolled out its pass interference replay review. Multiple reviews in a game will make long games only longer.


The NFL would be wise to learn from the CFL, which took several years - the CFL instituted the review process in 2014 - to get it right. One of the first things the CFL realized was that, on most occasions, you cannot call pass interference from the booth. Sure, you can use it for the 100 percent blown call, but for every pass play involving contact (which ones don't?) pass interference should be called on the field. In the CFL, only a coach's challenge can start a review.

The NFL will have to figure out the process for a replay official to stop a game and review a play. Remember, roughly three-fourths of all replay officials have never officiated a game on the field. There is potential to create a huge mess with too many stoppages.

One recommendation that has been brought to the league is the moving of officials. As NFL offensive philosophies have changed to more short passes, it has been suggested that the side judge and field judge move closer to the line of scrimmage to give them better vantage points to see infractions. 

Whatever the league decides, it will need to do it quickly. The 2019 NFL season is just 118 days away.