Sunday, December 14, 2008

You Probably Know More Than An ESPN Analyst

The adoption and use of replay in the NFL was supposed to help end controversies by giving officials a tool by which they could correct errors. Presumably, the types of errors that instant replay was designed to correct were the ones that came on big calls that potentially change the outcome of a game.

Such a play occurred in the Steelers/Ravens game. Late in the game (final minute) and with the Steelers trailing 9-6, QB Ben Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes with a pass at the goal line. Holmes was falling out of the end zone as he caught the ball. The ruling on the field was that the ball did not cross the plane of the goal line, which would have made it 4th down and Goal from a couple of inches. Of course, the play was reviewed, and subsequently overturned and the Steelers were given a touchdown on the play. Pittsburgh went on to win 13-9. (You can see the play here).

Did the official make the right call in overturning the call on the field? This was an excruciatingly close play, so people will have reasonable opinions on both sides of the issue. However, you would not have found those on ESPN right after the game--you would have found people who are paid to cover and comment on NFL games who seem to be ignorant of the rules!

ESPN calls its NFL segment on SportsCenter "The Blitz," and our cast of characters includes Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Trent Dilfer, and John Saunders. Here is a transcript of what happened on SportsCenter at approximately 7:50pm with my comments included.

Chris Berman (to Tom Jackson): The ref said "two feet were in the end zone but the ball..."

Tom Jackson: I could tell his feet were in bounds; I saw why the referee (sic) ruled that the ball might have been a couple of inches outside the end zone, because you can see right there the possibility that it never crossed the plane of the end zone, which stretches--as we all know--to infinity.

I love when analysts pull out the "plane of the end zone stretches to infinity" line without knowing what the hell they're talking about. Even if the plane of the end zone goes to "infinity and beyond," that doesn't apply here. What applies is simply this: did any part of the ball cross the goal line?

CB: The ball just has to break the close it is...

TJ: Since they called it outside the end zone initially, there is some change of call that took place. They either ruled that they made a mistake and the ball is in the end zone, or the rule is all that has to be down are your feet in the end zone. I would like to know which is the case.

I can say, with 100% certainty, that the rule does not state that all you have to do is have two feet down in the end zone. The rule for a touchdown is that a player must have possession of the ball with any part of the ball crossing the goal line. I would bet my last nine Grease Trading Cards on it. Thankfully, one person on the NFL set has a clue:

Trent Dilfer: My understanding is there has to be possession of the football and the ball has to cross the goal line. I talked to Mike Pereira, the head of officials, and that's why the ruling was overturned.

TJ: But then it's a change from what was stated on the field.

Isn't every reversal a change from what was "stated on the field?" If Brandon Marshall makes what appears to be a diving catch and it is called that way on the field, and the play is challenged and overturned, wouldn't that be a "change from what was stated on the field?" And a correct one?

It's sad that people who are paid to watch and make meaningful comment on NFL games seem to know very little about the rules. Tom Jackson was a player for the Denver Broncos. He's been on ESPN for like 100 years. He should know better. I don't know if Jackson criticized Donovan McNabb about McNabb's famous lack of knowledge concerning ties and overtime, but if he did, Jackson should call Donovan and apologize.

Now the really dumb part:

John Saunders: Don't you feel the NFL in many ways complicates their (sic) own rules? Quite simply put, if I'm on the sidelines and my two feet are in bounds and I catch the ball, it's a catch. So if my two feet are in the end zone and I catch the ball, that should be a touchdown. It should be that simple.

TJ: It certainly would simplify things.

Simple? It already is simple! Saunders seems to have absolutely no understanding of football. Seriously. To use Saunders's shitty example, of course if you get two feet down on the sidelines it's a catch. But that's not what's in question here--it's the placement of the ball. If you make a catch on the sidelines, the ball is spotted not where your feet are, but where the ball is when either a)your knee hits, or b)you go out of bounds. The significance of having two feet down is merely to determine possession--the spot of the ball has nothing to do with your feet.

The same is true for the end zone. The receiver's feet have nothing to do with the spot. If the receiver has the ball and any part of the ball crosses the goal line--touchdown. Going back to the original play in question (do you remember that?), after consulting instant replay, the referee apparently ruled that Holmes obtained possession of the ball (i.e. controlling the ball with two feet down) with some part of the ball over the goal line. Pretty simple. Was it a good call? Based on the above, I think so.

Perhaps ESPN should make knowledge of the NFL Rulebook mandatory for pretending to be an expert.

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Blogger Zinglebert Bembledack said...

I do not expect every sports analyst to know every rule in a given sport's rule book. There will always be some obscure rule that comes out every blue moon that a sports analyst can get tripped on. I do not expect all of them to know that the home team is required to provide 24 footballs for a home game and 12 footballs shipped directly from the manufacturer to be opened by the officials for the kicking.

However, I do expect them to understand what a "catch" is and what constitutes a "touchdown" in the NFL. Two of the four played football and one of them has been on ESPN for what, 20-plus years? How do you not know this stuff?

I have no problem if you want to argue whether or not the play resulted in a touchdown or not. As close as it was, you can easily give arguments for both.

Just another reason why ESPN typically sucks anymore. Sadly, it is the biggest sports network and the biggest provider on cable.

Nice job as always, Slut.

December 15, 2008 at 1:25 PM  
Blogger Slut Bunwalla said...

I'm both impressed and a little concerned that YOU know the number of footballs the home team is required to provide.

I'm just saying.

December 15, 2008 at 2:16 PM  

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