Don't Call Congressional Interference on a No-Call Pass Interference

The Saints were robbed. But that's not Congress' problem.


Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports/Newscom

Most NFL fans wouldn't deny that the New Orleans Saints were robbed of a chance to play in Super Bowl LIII. But is the issue really worthy of congressional intervention?

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D–La.) told The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis yesterday that he has broached the possibility of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answering questions from congressmen about the blown call at the end of Sunday's NFC championship game.

For those who missed it: The Saints and the Los Angeles Rams were tied at 20 with less than two minutes to play. On a third down at the 13-yard line, Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw a pass intended for receiver Tomylee Lewis. But Lewis couldn't haul it in, because Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman ran into him well before he could make the catch.

As Robey-Coleman himself later admitted, the referees should have thrown a penalty flag for defensive pass interference. Had they done so, the Saints would have been awarded an automatic first down. Then they could have run out the clock and kicked an easy field goal as time expired to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. Instead, they had to kick a field goal with plenty of time remaining. The Rams' offense then drove down the field to tie the game before winning in overtime.

"The Saints should be on their way to Atlanta to play in the Super Bowl," Richmond says in a statement. "Instead, they are left with the memory of officials who failed to create an equal playing field and deprived them of that opportunity. Officials should not have the ability to determine the fate of a team who rightfully earned their place in NFL championship history."

From an NFL fan's perspective, Richmond is absolutely right. But Richmond isn't just a Saints fan; he's a member of Congress. "I have since spoken with colleagues on the Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee about inviting NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to answer some important questions about the unfair call against the Saints; a call that he has the jurisdiction to overturn," his statement says.

Richmond was likely referring to a section of the NFL rulebook giving the commissioner "the sole authority to investigate and take appropriate disciplinary and/or corrective measures" in the event of an "extraordinarily unfair" occurrence that "has a major effect on the result of the game." But the rules also state that this authority will not be applied "in cases of complaints by clubs concerning judgmental errors or routine errors of omission by game officials."

Richmond was not the only elected official to complain about the call. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has written a letter to Goodell expressing his "deep disappointment" with the game's outcome. Edwards calls on Goodell to make changes so that something similar never happens again, though he stops short of suggesting the government might take official action.

Both Richmond and Edwards are clearly pandering to the Saints' rabid fan base. But Richmond's statement, if taken seriously, raises concerns. Yes, Saints fans want answers, but it's not Congress' job provide them.

This situation draws some parallels with Congress' interference in baseball's steroid scandal. Back in 2005, high-profile players such as Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling, and Rafael Palmeiro were dragged before Congress to testify on performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Major League Baseball had previously been granted an exemption from federal antitrust law (the NFL enjoys a similar exemption), which Congress used to justify the hearings. But as Reason's Matt Welch wrote at the time, Congress had no business interfering in the relationship between Major League Baseball and its players.

But that didn't seem to matter then, just as it didn't seem to matter nearly three years later, when star pitcher Roger Clemens testified about his alleged PED use. As Welch and Nick Gillespie noted in The Washington Post, "sorting out the morality and legality of self-improvement has more to do with aesthetic revulsion and moral panic than with considered science or logic."

"In other words," they explained, "it's not remotely a job for Congress."

The same goes for referees who blow calls. Just because fans are mad doesn't mean the government needs to get involved. Better to let the NFL work out its issues on its own. And indeed, the league is reportedly considering making pass interference calls (and no-calls) reviewable, which would likely prevent a similar blown call from having a major effect on a game.

Bonus link: The five worst government interventions in sports.

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  1. “But is the issue really worthy of congressional intervention?”
    Of course not, but that won’t stop idiots like Richmond.

  2. Don’t want the government interfering with your product don’t ask them to fund your capital costs.

    1. The Federal government doesn’t fund NFL stadiums. If a state Governor or a state Legislature was talking about getting involved in this issue, you might have a point.

      1. As Jesus said those who live by the sword die by the sword. He didn’t specify whose hand would be holding that sword. Now more politically speaking, I think that this would fall under the commerce clause unless Louisiana and CA could come to terms or agree on another neutral arbitrator. Disputes between the states are within the purview of the feds and when these private business made the states/cities their partners they got themselves a whole lot of other baggage that goes along with the taxpayer loans. Let them live with the contracts they made.

    2. I assume you’re talking about stadiums, but it goes beyond that.
      I love the NFL, at least in so much as it is the premier pro football league. I play fantasy football, watch the games, and geek out about the rookie draft and free agency. I think deeply about strategic and philosophic aspects of football.
      That being said, its absolutely ridiculous that the NFL enjoys non-profit status and Goodell is a POS son of a senator.
      If the NFL is going to accept the perks of crony capitalism, it does so knowing that it can be called to account in arbitrary and stupid ways.
      Nonetheless, this is virtue signaling and won’t go anywhere.

      About the missed call itself: it was inexcusable. That crew should be held to account for the NFL’s own sake. The Saints were robbed of a Superbowl appearance, and the window of opportunity is vanishingly short in the league (for anyone who hasn’t made a blood pact with Satan, like New England fans, Kraft, Belichick, and Brady).
      It’s an injustice, but it is.
      They can’t replay it, even according to the rule stating an outcome can be replayed due to calamity. Bad officiating happens. I’m guessing to meet the “calamity” requirement would require something like half the stadium collapsing or a coach having a fatal heart attack mid game. Maybe an earthquake.

      1. The Saints were robbed of a Superbowl appearance

        Why were they tied with the Rams in the final minutes?

        1. The Saints won the OT coin toss & were moving the ball until their overrated QB, Drew Brees threw an interception & they lost…..Even after the blown call they were in position to win & blew it!….Bad calls or non-calls are part of the game!…I bet if one looked at the tape of the game closely, there were some bad calls against the Rams too!

      2. The NFL gave up nonprofit status several years ago supposedly because it restricted them too much. Which does not change anything as the League does not report any profits as it distributes any revenue above expenses to its franchises.

        That is truly an ignoramus talking point that just will not die.

      3. The NFL gave up nonprofit status several years ago supposedly because it restricted them too much. Which does not change anything as the League does not report any profits as it distributes any revenue above expenses to its franchises.

        That is truly an ignoramus talking point that just will not die.

      4. The NFL gave up nonprofit status several years ago supposedly because it restricted them too much. Which does not change anything as the League does not report any profits as it distributes any revenue above expenses to its franchises.

        That is truly an ignoramus talking point that just will not die.

      5. Even pro sports don’t claim that every infraction is caught. If perfect compliance is the goal, there should be self-reporting requirements with heightened penalties for failing to report.

        1. e.g., golf, ultimate frisbee. The system works.

      6. Have you tried coaching?

        1. Chances are he’s never thrown a pass either

    3. Ding ding ding!

  3. Good teams overcome bad officiating. Every game has blown calls. Every. Single. Game.

    The Saints would be going to the Super Bowl if this call had gone their way. They also would be going to the SB if they had been able to stop the Rams’ final drive. They’d be going if even one of their previous field goals had instead been a touchdown, or if one of their punts had instead been a scoring drive. They lost this game multiple times that night, not just because of one bad no-call.

    By all means, the NFL should be focused on correcting the errors of officials with continuous improvement. But to just give the Saints this game after they failed to put it away multiple times before, would send the league down a path of overruling games that will ultimately result in a horrible product for everyone.

    1. They lost this game multiple times that night, not just because of one bad no-call.

      Yes this. They absolutely were robbed, but it’s equally true that they did their damnedest to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It’s almost like The Cosmos was speaking through the ref: “you seem to want to lose this game, so here’s some help…”

      1. The way they’ve lost back to back years has been stunningly brutal

    2. Like elections — unless you win by a landslide, half the voters are gonna be pissed.

      For elections, if it’s so close to require a manual recount, why not just flip a coin — it will be just as fair as arguing about hanging chad (what the hell did Chad do anyway?).

      Maybe the same rule for games. You could piss off all the fans that way. If the final score is that disputable, flip a coin.

  4. Since the NFL is already “government sport” considering all the collaboration with the military and police, this stupid proposal seems perfectly in line with existing stupid initiatives.

  5. Sports fans at the worst.

    1. Virtue signaling your distaste for sports is really the worst…

  6. What about the 75 holding calls the refs didn’t make? Virtually every play in football has one player or another technically committing a foul but as long as it’s not too blatant the refs let ’em play. (Unless the foul is committed against Tom Brady, of course, then the refs will actually make shit up just to throw a flag on the play.) Any close game you can go back and see where a play here or a play there going differently could have easily affected the outcome of the game. This just happened to be a high-profile blown call at a critical time but a dropped ball here or a missed tackle there can just as easily be seen as the critical play of the game. If this one was such an obvious gimme play, what the hell were the Saints doing being in a position of having to win the game on a last-second field goal to start with? I’m sure both teams had deserved and undeserved opportunities to win or lose the game, the occasional bad call is part of the game and unless you want every damn play to be automatically reviewed and games to last 14 hours, you kick the dirt and curse your luck then hike up your big girl panties and get on with your life. And I don’t say this just as Saints-hater getting a kick out of seeing these people whining and crying like little babies, I’d say the same thing no matter what caused the Saints to lose.

    1. Unless the foul is committed against Tom Brady, of course, then the refs will actually make shit up just to throw a flag on the play.

      I think from time to time the refs will make bogus calls to make up for not calling obviously blown calls. The roughing the passer call and the missed pick call in the NE v KC game, for example.

      1. So you do watch!
        Okay, I take back my previous criticism- but only in regard to you specifically

        1. Sure, I only watch football though. However, I do not say “we” when talking about how the team did. The only sports apparel I own is a cap with a logo on it. I don’t contemplate suicide and/or murder when the team I’m rooting for loses.

  7. In fairness, shouldn’t the hearing for this be put in line after the hearing for Denkinger’s blown call at first base in game 6 of the ’85 World Series? And behind the hearing to determine whether Hull’s foot was in the crease?

    1. The salt is still delicious, 34 years later.

  8. This guy is just placating the rubes. He probably has hundreds of calls and letters from angry constituents wanting “someone to do something”. This way he can posture and preen with virtually zero downside and tons of upside that will translate to votes and donations from his district.

  9. Yep, the officials were either monumentally stupid or blatantly corrupt. But this should not go before congress.

  10. Or maybe a team with both Alvin Kamara *and* Mark Ingram could have, I don’t know, RUN THE BALL to force the Rams to use their timeouts?
    But yes, by all means, let’s get Congress involved! Do something!! Think of the children!!!

    1. The play call WAS a run, but the defense stacked the box, so Brees audibled to a pass. That’s absolutely the right call, do you even football? 99% of the time, Brees makes that easy pass, but he just didn’t execute. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right decision.

  11. i for one love it when attention-whore politicians stick their noses where they don’t belong.

    Who doesn’t?

  12. Shutdown be damned, what this needs is a special prosecutor to find out how many points the Russians were giving the rams.

  13. I sympathize profoundly with the people of New Orleans. Unfortunately, it is like the bumper sticker sez: “S–t Happens.”

    In the bigger scheme of things I do suspect that the L.A. Rams will be a better match up against the Patriots. I say that because my beloved Seahawks were no slouches and they had their guts wrenched out playing this Rams team.

    Back to issues that really do matter, Russia and China do have their militaristic streaks. In fact, they have some emergent weapons programs that are downright spooky. One good thing about the enhanced EMP weapons they are developing—I won’t have to worry about all the mainstream legacy broadcast media shoving Fake News down my throat anymore. That will vanish. For years.

    Here’s a tip. If you have jumper cables, clamp one end on the frame of your car and the other to a pipe or ground rod embedded in the soil. That way your car will run after the magnetic pulse knocks everything else out. Might be hard to get gas, so keep some on hand. Also food and lots of potable water. Pumps won’t be pumping for anything.

    And remember, “S–t Happens.”

  14. 3 NFL officials refused to throw a flag on an obvious call that very well may have affected the who the winner of the game is. If the NFL had a vested interest in having the Rams (a much larger TV audience) in the Superbowl, and used the officials to cheat, then yes, this is something the anti trust committee should look into.

    1. Why did the refs let the Saints score any points at all?

      1. Why did the refs let the Saints score points? Maybe so people like you could use those points fallaciously as evidence they weren’t throwing the game.

    2. You can’t rely on one call at the end of the game though.
      If NFL officials are going to fix a game, the officiating throughout is going to be bad and one sided (see: media coverage of politics).
      The red swallowed his whistle too deep at the wrong time, and it is what it is.

  15. Richmond says in a statement. “Instead, they are left with the memory of officials who failed to create an equal playing field and deprived them of that opportunity. Officials should not have the ability to determine the fate of a team who rightfully earned their place in NFL championship history.”

    Sure… Saints got fucked on that call. But this statement absolutely makes me want to puke. “Failed to create an equal playing field”? “deprived them of that opportunity”? This is the bullshit language of mediocrity.

    “Officials should not have the ability to determine the fate of a team…” Sorry… but, judgment calls are their job. The Saints should not have allowed themselves to be in position where a blown call decided their fate.

  16. So if congress finds that union members do not do their job well, then what??!!!

  17. Just because fans are mad doesn’t mean the government needs to get involved.

    Right. Fans have to get violent before the government needs to get involved.

  18. When things are going wrong and the breaks are beating the boys……get our brilliant Congress involved.

  19. From a procedural perspective, Goodell should not open the pandora’s box of overturning games based on singular egregious calls. No game is called perfectly and it’s ridiculous to suggest the Saints lost exclusively because of that no call. They could have played better defense on that last drive. Both teams could have done a lot of things differently. I realize that competitive games can be decided by a single play, it’s your job to be good enough to not let individual calls make or break your gameplan.

  20. I can give the congressman a pass on the assumption that he is just making political hay to placate his fellow Louisiananers who are rightfully hopping mad. I would not want to be walking Bourbon St in an NFL ref jersey tonight.

    Next thing you know they will return the 50 million francs we paid for it and tell the rest of us to kiss off. Then where would we be? Our entire national sparkly plastic bead necklace industry could be wiped out overnight for one thing.

    It is a matter of national security and congress needs to act quickly. Last I heard the locals were piling up wood in Jackson Square.

  21. I think it’s fair enough for a Congressman to issue a public rebuke of this problem. However, there is nothing the government should do to interfere otherwise. Both the NFL and fedgov need rules that make sense and apply them faithfully

  22. I do not watch a ton of football, but what I did watch this year left me feeling like officiating was worse. It seems like they are trying to hard to perfectly referee the games, and to that end I would like to make the following proposal.

    1. Every play is reviewed by the booth
    2. Coaches get unlimited opportunities to call for a second look (Just once per play though)
    3 Instead of the MS Surface, all replays will be shown on the Jumbo-tron at the Stadium.

    Because of this games will have to start earlier and will likely take 8-10 hours to complete. With enough cameras and officials in the replay booth, we should make the right call virtually every single time.

    At first, every play will have multiple penalties, but eventually things will settle down and nothing will happen on the field. (We will start thinking of baseball as being more of a contact sport before long.)

    That should succeed in killing off the game if nothing else.

  23. For as long as the NFL enjoys preferential treatment from the state (antitrust exemptions, funding), I’m fine with the state pressuring them. If they’re carved a privilege by the state to squash any attempts at competition to bring a fairer league with more integrity to fruition, why shouldn’t the state step in when the game’s clearly lost all integrity? If the NFL doesn’t want this, maybe it should give up its privileges.

    1. What antitrust exemptions?

      Stadium funding I don’t think is any worse than funding for airports. Every gov’t-paid facility is a subsidy to its predominant users.

      1. It’s just that Reason & Cato picked sports stadia as easy targets, what w the very visible campaigning for them.

      2. In fairness, stadiums are typically privately owned (by the team). Airports are typically owned by the local port authority

  24. Start working at home with Google. It’s the most-financially rewarding I’ve ever done. On tuesday I got a gorgeous BMW after having earned $8699 this last month. I actually started five months/ago and practically straight away was bringin in at least $96, per-hour. visit this site right here…..

  25. And just when you thought things couldn’t get any more stupid after UCF’s campaign to be named college football National Champion in 2018, now there’s a used car salesman in the southeast posting billboards throughout the southeast with things like “Bleauxn Call” on it, which will include billboards as close to the Super Bowl site as possible. I’ve seen a couple of photos of them though, and the weird part is that none of the billboards have his dealership’s name on them. Some folks just don’t get the idea of advertising, I guess.

  26. Thanks, Reason. I had been hearing how the Saints were robbed, but didn’t know exactly what everyone was talking about until reading this. Sorry Saints fans, what do you expect investing your hopes and emotions in what should be called penaltyball?

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