Proposed pass interference rule change gains steam at competition committee meeting

ByKevin Seifert ESPN logo
Thursday, March 22, 2018

A proposal that would dramatically alter the NFL's pass interference rules gained momentum this week during competition committee meetings, according to league executive vice president Troy Vincent.

The new rule, proposed by the New York Jets, would eliminate the NFL's long-standing practice of making pass interference a spot foul. Instead, it would mark off 15 yards regardless of where on the field the foul took place.According to the wording of the proposal, pass interference would remain a spot foul if the contact by a defender is "intentional and egregious."

The competition committee itself has not endorsed the proposal, and sources said at the scouting combine that it was unlikely to find support. But some members of the committee warmed to the idea this week, and it is expected to receive heavy discussion among coaches and owners next week at the annual league meetings.

A vote could come as early as Tuesday.

"It has some momentum," Vincent said Wednesday afternoon by phone. "That has some momentum. We had good discussion in the room. It will be interesting when we get with the coaches. ... I don't want to get ahead of it, but I can tell you this: It had momentum in the room among the competition committee."

Some coaches are concerned that defensive backs will be incentivized to commit obvious penalties to avoid completions when the receiver is more than 15 yards downfield. Others, however, have grown increasingly concerned with the impact a single pass interference penalty can have because of the massive yardage involved. In 2017, for example, there were 129 defensive pass interference penalties of more than 15 yards.

Vincent declined to handicap the rule's chances of passage but said: "It will get healthy discussion, and you just never know what will happen on the [voting] floor."

In addition to a revised catch rule, Vincent said the competition committee will also endorse several other proposals, including:

  • The authority for senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron to eject a player who has been penalized for a non-football act during a game. Riveron would make the decision in real time from the league's centralized officiating office in New York City.
  • Referees would continue to have the authority to eject players as well. Vincent said the proposal is designed to avoid two instances that occurred in 2017, when New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans were both penalized but not ejected for hitting opponents. Under the proposal, Riveron would be permitted to eject a player only if officials on the field had already thrown a flag.
  • Coaches would be required to make a decision within 40 seconds to challenge a ruling during a TV timeout. This change would avoid instances where coaches delay a challenge until after the broadcast returns from a commercial.