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NFL misses opportunity to change pass interference rule for the better

NFL owners listened to a proposal that would have made defensive pass interference a less punitive penalty.

The owners decided to keep things the way they were.

A proposal from the New York Jets wanted to change the enforcement of pass interference from a spot foul to a 15-yard penalty – as it is in college football.

Despite the proposed change gaining momentum in the days leading up to this week’s NFL meetings in Orlando, Fla., the rule will not be changed. The Jets actually withdrew their proposal prior to owners voting on it because they knew it would not pass.

This was an expected decision by the league, especially after NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent spoke out against the idea during a media conference call on Friday.

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NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent

Vincent said there was a “healthy discussion” around the idea, including what probably should happen – making defensive pass interference a half-the-distance penalty instead of a spot foul or a 15-yard mark-off. An infraction 40 yards downfield would then be a 20-yard enforcement; 56 yards downfield, a 28-yard penalty. Vincent still doesn’t think that would benefit the league.

“The professional defensive backs, we’re too skilled, we’re too smart and we can play the play,” the former Wisconsin and NFL cornerback said when I asked him about the proposed change. “So you can be strategic about it… You don’t want the defensive back to strategically grab the guy.”

What the NFL is missing here is that, while offenses are protected from defensive backs grabbing a receiver as he goes by, there is little protection from a quarterback simply heaving the ball 60 yards downfield in an attempt to draw a penalty. Vincent said NFL DBs have to just play the ball with sound technique. But even then, the NFL has been very inconsistent when calling pass interference.

While there may be a larger officiating issue at hand, pass interference remains one of the most punitive penalties in the NFL, especially the rule that places the ball at the 1-yard line with a foul that occurs in the end zone. A half-the-distance enforcement could actually benefit and protect both the offensive and defensive players instead of essentially gifting a touchdown to the offense following a 60-yard heave.

The Jets proposal did include a spot foul for an “intentional and egregious” infraction, but the competition committee did not send it to the owners for a vote with its approval.