Running past interference

I like Grantland’s Vegas correspondent, Bill Barnwell, and it seems he had himself a pensive weekend, maybe because he lost all his money? Who knows, but he posted today his suggestions for reforming the NFL’s pass interference rule that are thoughtful and almost academic in their substance and presentation. Aside from the practical workability concerns he identifies, I think his solution– creation of minor, major, and flagrant pass interference penalties– is a good one. The details are available here.

I have long complained about pass interference calls in football too, but not for the same reasons as Barnwell. I’ve often said that 75% of pass interference calls shouldn’t be made, and while I’m no good at numbers, the point is that it’s called too much. Barnwell agrees for a derivative or secondary reason: the game-atlering nature of the sanction. I think so for a primary reason, however: the very act being punished isn’t worthy of punishment as often as it is punished, irrespective of what that punishment is.

I get that football doesn’t work if the DBs get to just tackle the receivers on every play, and I get that this is especially true today, when passing has come to dominate the pro game to the extent it now does (ESPN declared 2011 the Year of the Quarterback, so it must be true), but this is still a contact sport, and passes are still live balls, and getting a jersey tugged or an arm touched is part of the game. Watching every receiver who just missed a catch pop up and flail for a flag he more often than not gets shouldn’t have to be, though. I know we don’t really live in the world of tear-away uniforms anymore, but the jersey pull is the dumbest of all, right? “Yep…right there…grabbed the back of his jersey….”  Whether that and other similar physical interactions cost the defense five yards or fifteen yards isn’t my concern, and I don’t propose any formal rule change. Rather, the league should just tell the officials to back off on their pass interference calls. 

Barnwell, ever the Vegas man these days, writes a lot about risk and reward in his proposal for sanction modifications. Because the types of interactions the pass interference penalty punishes aren’t those that are large player safety threats, a similar analysis could apply to my proposal for treatment of the underlying act in that this is a low risk, high reward area for the league to permit back into the game some of the physicality it’s taking out in other areas.

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