Passing Judgment: The Incorrect Ruling on the Field Stands

Dumb and Dumber.

On Monday night, September 24, 2012, the result of the Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks game was tarnished by one of the worst officiating calls in the history of professional sports.  The labor dispute between the league and its referees has created complete and utter chaos within the NFL.  Replacement referees have been mocked and criticized to no end, and deservingly so.  But it was only a matter of time before their inexperience and ineptitude had a direct effect on the outcome of a game.  And it couldn’t have happened on a bigger stage than Monday Night Football broadcast on ESPN and featuring of the league’s oldest and most storied franchises – the Green Bay Packers. 

We have all seen the play over and over again.  It was obvious that Golden Tate committed blatant offensive pass interference before the ball even landed, so it should have been a moot point anyway.  But the fact remains that M.D. Jennings intercepted Russell Wilson’s last second hail mary pass into the endzone which was unbelievably ruled a tocuhdown.  After the play was reviewed, the call was upheld allegedly because both Jennings and Tate simultaneously caught the ball, and the tie goes to the offensive player.  After seeing the play repeatedly from different camera angles, there is no possible way to conclude that Tate caught the ball or had possession of it at any time. 

Amidst the chaos and confusion of the play, we saw one referee signal for a touchdown and another referee waiving his arms as if to indicate a touchback (as a result of an interception).  This image will likely symbolize the new NFL that exists today with scab referees who aren’t qualified to officiate a game of Madden ’13 football.

Anyone not affiliated with the Seattle Seahawks or their fan base has opined that the Packers were robbed of the game and should have won.  Now there is public outcry for the commissioner, Roger Goodell, to implement powers bestowed upon him under NFL Rule 17 to overturn the result of the game and award Green Bay the victory.  Rule 17 has to do with emergencies and unfair acts and it delineates certain powers vested to the commissioner.  The following is the relevant kanguage of the rule:

Rule 17 – Emergencies, Unfair Acts

Section 2: Extraordinarily Unfair Acts


Article 1

The Commissioner has the sole authority to investigate and take appropriate disciplinary and/or corrective measures if any club action, non-participant interference, or calamity occurs in an NFL game which he deems so extraordinarily unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effect on the result of the game.


Article 2

The authority and measures provided for in this entire Section 2 do not constitute a protest machinery for NFL clubs to avail themselves of in the event a dispute arises over the result of a game. The investigation called for in this Section 2 will be conducted solely on the Commissioner’s initiative to review an act or occurrence that he deems so extraordinary or unfair that the result of the game in question would be inequitable to one of the participating teams. The Commissioner will not apply his authority in cases of complaints by clubs concerning judgmental errors or routine errors of omission by game officials. Games involving such complaints will continue to stand as completed.

Under Article 1, Goodell does have the power to intervene and implement corrective measures under certain circumstances.  However, his ability to intervene in this case is undermined by the language of Article 2 which precludes him for applying his authority in cases involving judgmental errors or omissions by game officials.  As much as this miscarriage of justice deserves to be rectified, it would cause a slippery slope if Goodell overturned the results.  Think about it.  Any time a team felt that the referees, whether they are the real ones or replacements, made a bad or incorrect call, they would simply cite to this Green Bay-Seattle game as precedent to undertake an investigation and possibly modify the results of a game.  This cannot happen.

The public image and integrity of the NFL is in serious jeopardy right now.  Players, coaches, and the media have expressed their opinions and outrage in a public forum.  While there is no question the replacement referees have ignored the rules of the league (or at least ignorantly misapplied them), that does not mean the solution is for Roger Goodell to in turn ignore the established rules of the NFL by ignoring Article 2 of the above-referenced Rule 17.  That would open Pandora’s Box and exacerbate the problem to an untenable magnitude.  So, unfortunately for the Green Bay Packers and NFL fans around the world, after further review of the NFL rulebook, the incorrect ruling on the field must stand.



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