Advertisers, Rejoice: More Replay in the NFL

NFL owners made all turnovers subject to booth review Wednesday. Because the game needs so much more of this. (http://www.cleveland.com)

NFL owners made all turnovers subject to booth-review in a 30-2 vote Wednesday. Combined with the similar change made to touchdown calls last season, the reasons a coach might use one of his two (or three) challenges now plummets to basically open-field receptions and ball-placement.

The new rule may slightly protect coaches from bad calls, but the owners didn’t approve it to make their subordinates’ jobs easier.

They did it to make money. Because for every turnover, there’ll be a review. And for every review, there’ll be a commercial break.

So the owners sell more ads, and the coaches save their challenges for first-down spots. That’s a win-win, right?

Sure … unless you’re a football fan.

It’s time football fans knew: no one in the NFL cares about you or your enjoyment. They’d rather reduce the NFL to automatic responses and advertising dollars, removing as much of the human element from the game as possible. In a perfect world, football would be played by FOX’s moronic CGI robots.

Hey, at least robots wouldn’t sue the NFL for destroying their brains.

Coaches Succeeding More by Challenging Less

The ESPN article that broke this news brought up how coaches challenged successfully 52 percent of last season, a 10 percent bump over 2010 and the best rate in 10 years. And since touchdowns became booth-reviewable last season, that shows making even more plays subject to booth-review would make coaches even better challengers.

That’s a specious conclusion. The higher success rate comes from a smaller sample size: coaches averaged almost two challenges fewer per season between 2010 and 2011. They didn’t challenge as much because one of the biggest reasons to challenge became automatically reviewed. Do the same to turnovers, and the success rate will probably go up again as the sample size further diminishes.

Booth Reviews More Disruptive Than Challenges

I think we can assume fans would prefer a fast game over a slow one (or they’d watch baseball or cricket), so any rule that negatively affects the pace of the game also negatively impacts the fan’s experience. And what most breaks up the pace of an NFL game? Commercials.

The million-dollar question, then, is what causes more commercial breaks: coaching challenges or turnover reviews?

Well, let’s see: coaches averaged 5.6 challenges per season in 2011, or 197 total challenges. That’s 197 commercial breaks from coaches.

Meanwhile, even the best season in the last decade in terms of ball-possession still resulted in almost 800 turnovers. Over the last 10 seasons, the NFL has averaged 868.5 turnovers.

Even if only half the total turnovers next season result in booth-reviews, that would still be over twice as many commercial breaks as coaches ever could. And the new rule will in all likelihood reduce the number of times a coach challenges per season, further skewing the percentages

Many Breaks, Few Changes

Of course, if these replays really changed the game, the NFL could argue their necessity. But as with crimes, plays can only be overturned with “incontrovertible evidence.” And the refs don’t get all the extra slow-motion and yellow circles the color commentators give the audience. Booth review is much more about naked-eye judgment than high-tech analysis.

How many touchdowns does anyone remember getting overturned last season? One? Two? I can’t remember a single meaningful shift brought about by a booth-replay last season. Most of the time, the refs went to the booth, stayed long enough for a beer commercial or two, then came back to confirm the original call. We can expect the same next year – a lot of pauses, followed by a lot of status quo.

Other New Rules Fine

I don’t mind the owners’ other new rules. Sudden-death overtime shouldn’t be decided by a coin flip and the 40 yards needed to enter field goal range. Crackback blocks are as dangerous to defenders as clotheslines or horse-collar tackles are to runners, and the NFL needs to start protecting its defensive players a bit. The Giants shouldn’t get to pull their too-many-men shenanigans from the Super Bowl ever again.

But giving turnovers to the replay booth does nothing but slow a game already riddled with commercials to a crawl. Roger Goodell and the owners can squawk about helping out coaches and getting calls right, but all they really want is to make more money. And they do that by force-feeding us even more advertisements.

This new rule is nothing but capitalism disguised as loyalty. And while the owners get richer, the fans and the game itself suffers.

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