USFL playoff game shows value of sky judge approach

When it comes to improving the umpire function, the NFL has generally exhibited a toxic combination of cheapness and stubbornness. Last night’s USFL playoff game between Pittsburgh and Michigan revealed the madness of one of those attributes.

Late in the fourth quarter, with the Maulers leading the Panthers 20-17, Michigan connected on a 55-yard touchdown pass to take the lead.

But there was a penalty. Officials called Michigan right tackle Josh Dunlap for a facemask foul, erasing the score.

Enter judge of heaven. Mike Pereira watched the game and saw that there was no face mask foul. (He appeared to hold the edge of the jersey, but it was clearly not a facemask foul.) The penalty kick was ruled out and the touchdown was reinstated.

This is important because, in the NFL, there would not have been a similar solution. Hidden calls and non-calls cannot be reviewed. In an NFL postseason game, the late touchdown that resulted in a lead change would have been wiped out, with no way to rectify the clear and obvious officiating error.

“I hope some NFL decision makers are watching this game, because what Mike Pereira did to clean up this call, to make sure the call was fair in the critical moments of a division game for the right of going to the championship game just makes the game so much better,” NBC analyst Jason Garrett said after the sequence of events unfolded. “And it’s a simple mechanism. Mike Pereira and the crew handled it the right way. And there is justice. It’s something the NFL should look into.

Justice applies in two ways, given this age of legalized betting. This applies to the outcome of games – and it applies to the outcome of betting on games.

At a time when the NFL must be far more concerned with the impact of officiating on the outcome of games and the outcome of betting on games, the NFL must adopt all readily available devices to quickly and effectively repair errors. “Shit happens” isn’t good enough to explain officiating mistakes, not when so much money depends on the basic assumption that: (1) officials will do things right; and (2) the league will have something in place to make things right when that’s not the case.

The NFL is notoriously reactive, not proactive. With the game bringing so many wolves to the NFL’s doorstep, and with the league welcoming some of them in the name of further fattening the property, the NFL must spend the money necessary to identify and remedy all of the potential problems, before they happen and not after.

Far too often, the league feigns surprise when a rule or approach that should have been corrected creates an unfair result. And then the league quickly tries to fix it.

Or try to fix it and fail, as the league did after the Saints were screwed in the 2018 NFC Championship by blatant, but unwarranted, pass interference.

This experience ultimately left the league seemingly paralyzed with fear of unintended consequences and/or general incompetence. But if/when there is a major scandal, the various lawmakers, regulators and prosecutors won’t agree: “Well, we knew this could be a problem, but we were reluctant to address it because we weren’t certain we could solve it in a good way, so we just lived with it.

This is a reckless and stupid approach. And no one within the league’s power structure seems to take him seriously. If they are, they’re not taking it seriously enough, or the NFL would already be using the procedure employed Saturday night by the USFL to correct an error that would otherwise taint the outcome of a playoff game.

Of course, Pittsburgh still won. But they won the game because of their positive efforts on the field – not the negative consequences of “human error” that the humans in charge of the sport refused to correct.

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