Monday, January 12, 2009

Delay of posting

I'll get into my 2008 retrospective a little later this week, but I did want to comment on something that happened in the Tennessee/Baltimore playoff game. It's something that's always bugged me for years and should be fixed. No, I'm not talking about the overtime rules, which come into play maybe once a week and are the popular whipping dog these days. (Oh, wait, were no games decided in overtime this week? All right, then we'll pull it off our talk-show schedule until it happens again.)

Rather, I'd like to ask a simple question? Why isn't a delay of game called when the play clock reaches zero? Like, automatically?

Jeff Fisher sure would like to know. In the play in question, Baltimore had a third down and two. The play clock, shown in the bottom corner of the screen, clearly hit zero and the ball was snapped perhaps a full second later, with no penalty called. The resulting play was good for 23 yards and a first down and, on the drive, Baltimore would kick the winning field goal.

We've all seen it, usually several times a game. The play clock hits zero and, a quarter of a second later, the ball is snapped. Most of the time, we're fine with it, realizing that our team will milk the clock for that extra split second as much as the other team. Only when there's an extra-long beat (as was the case in the Baltimore/Tennessee game) will people (coaches in particular) get upset about it.

So, why is this the case? Why are teams actually on a 40.25-second clock instead of a 40-second clock? I've heard the "natural" argument before, and it's laid out in the article I linked to:

After the game, referee Terry McAulay said there was a "natural delay" when the back judge looks from the play clock to the center to see if the ball is snapped. The play clock at LP Field is located on the Jumbotron scoreboard, not at field level.

On Sunday, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Tennessean: "There's always a delay, the back judge looks at the clock and when it hits zero he looks at the ball and if the ball is in the process of being snapped there is no penalty, so the back judge has to make a determination."

Only problem is, I don't buy it. Have you ever seen a game where the clock is ticking down to signal the end of a quarter and a team gets a play off after the clock shows 0:00? I can't remember that happening. If the officials can make that call with near-100% accuracy, why can't they do this one right?

Even if we do go with the "natural delay" argument, isn't there a way we can fix this? You would think so. In the NBA, a horn sounds when the shot clock hits zero. In the NHL, a light comes on when the game clock reaches zero. I'm not a fan of introducing more noise to the game, but it's at least possible. The problem comes when a team snaps the ball with a fraction of a second left; the resulting loud sound would probably affect the outcome of the play. (And I definitely don't like the idea of making delay of game a reviewable play.)

Instead, here's my solution. The referee already wears a vibrating buzzer (or somesuch) to signal him when the replay booth wants to review a play within the final two minutes of a half. Why can't the back judge wear a similar device that's linked to the play clock? When it hits zero, it buzzes, and, if the ball isn't snapped at the point, you get a whistle and a flag. That eliminates the "natural delay" of having to look from the play clock to the center and, being silent, doesn't disrupt the play. Even if it were impossible to link the play clock to such a device, you could have an official upstairs whose job it was to look at the play clock and nothing but the play clock. Soon as it hits zero, he pushes the button to signal the back judge. Sure, there would still be some delay, but if you're looking at a countdown from 3, 2, 1, 0, you can probably nail it right on the zero.

Makes too much sense, doesn't it?

Fisher is co-chairman of the NFL's Competition Committee

Here's hoping Fisher and the other members of the committee will give it some thought in the off-season.

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