The tangled web that Rich McKay is weaving when it comes to the decision to make pass interference generally subject to replay review but not subject to replay review in specific situations inadvertently has exposed that the NFL uses rules not on the books when officiating “Hail Mary” plays. That’s a real problem for the league, but one that apparently is baked firmly into the fibers of the officiating function.
A more recent problem that has yet to be addressed relates to the circumstances that constitute a Hail Mary for the purposes of turning off replay review. As previously explained, it’s simply not conducive to an objective definition based on field position, remaining time, and/or number of players in the end zone. Whatever parameters the league may set, smart coaches will find a way around them.
So here’s the solution. Because game officials apparently apply a know-it-when-you-see-it standard to applying the relaxed interference rules in real time, the game officials should determine the situations when a Hail Mary play has been called. It can happen before the play, with the officials telling the coaches and players that the Hail Mary rules are in effect. It can happen during the play, with the referee throwing his hand up as soon as the high, arcing pass is thrown, like the umpire does when invoking the infield fly rule in baseball. Or it can happen after, when one of the coaches tries to throw the red challenge flag and the referee says, “Sorry, coach, but that was a Hail Mary.”
Whatever the approach (and all three of them could be used), the situation calls for something subjective not objective, because coaches will manipulate their way around any and all objective tests.