soccer field

The Saints-Rams “no-call” and future rule implications

February 07, 2019

Last Sunday, the NFL season culminated with a 13-3 Super Bowl win by the New England Patriots over the Los Angeles Rams. Yet many NFL fans—particularly those from New Orleans—are still grappling with the controversial “no-call” from the January 20th NFC championship game, which may have cost the New Orleans Saints a Super Bowl appearance.

The play in question has been continuously replayed on sports media since January 20. Late in the fourth quarter, a Rams defender hit a Saints wide receiver deep inside Rams’ territory before the Saints receiver could attempt to catch the pass. Many believe that the referee should have flagged the defender for either pass interference or illegal helmet-to-helmet contact. Had he done so, the Saints would have received a first down and likely would have wound down the clock to score a game-winning field goal. However, the defender was called for neither penalty, permitting the Rams to regain possession of the ball and ultimately win in overtime.

Last week, Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, acknowledged during a press conference that the play is one that “should be called.” He added: “Whenever officiating is part of any kind of discussion post-game, it is never a good outcome for us.” While expressing understanding for the frustration of the fans, the Commissioner explained that because “the officials on the field are humans, like the players and coaches, errors will happen.” However, Commissioner Goodell did not consider requesting that the game be replayed.

Notwithstanding the Commissioner’s comments, the “no-call” has spurred both criticism and direct action by fans. Two Saints ticket holders filed a lawsuit seeking to force Commissioner Goodell to replay the last few minutes of the game through a writ of mandamus. However, a federal court in New Orleans dismissed the case, holding that the ticket holders did not have standing to seek a writ of mandamus because they are not members of the NFL, an unincorporated organization. Meanwhile, another fan has sued the NFL for fraud in Louisiana state court and thousands of other New Orleans fans boycotted the Super Bowl entirely, participating in “Boycott Bowl” instead.

As for future implications of the “no call” on League rules, Commissioner Goodell has stated that the NFL would consider—and has considered in the past—expanding the scope of its instant replay rules to consider such “no calls.” However he did not appear necessarily optimistic that such changes would be implemented, noting that coaches and teams have been hesitant about replay officials imposing a penalty when no flag had been thrown on the initial play. Nonetheless, given the widespread negative reaction to the “no call” in a pivotal conference championship, many fans welcome changes to the instant replay rules that would allow missed calls to be reviewed, particularly calls that have the potential to significantly impact the outcome of the game.