Federal judge to New Orleans: On further review, the worst call ever on the field stands

A last effort to impose a legal form of a booth review failed miserably late yesterday.  A federal judge threw out a lawsuit from New Orleans Saints fans seeking a mandamus writ to force the NFL to replay the NFC championship game, at least from the moment that incompetent officiating robbed the Saints of a new set of downs near the end of the game.

The game timer has been reset for 48 hours for a non-Saints Super Bowl, and the Saints have no more time-outs left:

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan in New Orleans said Saints season ticket holders who sued over the game could not compel Commissioner Roger Goodell to enforce NFL rules letting him order a game’s replaying or rescheduling after an “extraordinarily unfair” act.

The decision is a fresh setback for embittered Saints fans, likely scuttling their long-shot effort to undo the Rams’ 26-23 overtime victory on Jan. 20 in the National Football Conference championship. …

In refusing to intervene, Morgan concluded that the NFL, an unincorporated association, and Goodell had no “unequivocal duty imposed by law” to investigate.

“The writ of mandamus may not be used to enforce a disputed right,” Morgan wrote.

What exactly was the “right,” disputed or not? The lawsuit alleged that the unjust outcome of the game deprived New Orleans season-ticket holders from being able to purchase Super Bowl tickets at face value, a courtesy extended by the league for the two winning teams. Arguably, that creates a substantial financial loss from the terrible, horrid, and incompetent non-call near the end of regulation for those Saints season-ticket holders, providing them a claim on standing.

Even so, however, league rules do not regulatory obligations make. Could Goodell have ordered the game replayed? Theoretically yes, but that doesn’t require him to order it to be done. The league has never invoked that clause, and with only two days before the Super Bowl, Goodell wasn’t about to try it out for the first time this week. Besides, which bad call should set the replay point — the pass interference non-call, or the face-mask non-call that the Saints got away with on an earlier Rams series?

The Saints made enough mistakes in the game and on that drive, Drew Brees told Dan Patrick today, that they should focus on the factors that were in their control more than the officiating. However, Brees ripped Goodell for not saying “a peep” for more than a week about what happened:

“I think that we all recognize that being in that position, you are the face of the league. And you have the responsibility to come out and address issues when they come about,” Brees told The Dan Patrick Show. “And I would say that on Monday or Tuesday after that game we all deserved a response of some kind.

“I mean, do I really want to be in a position talking about this over and over again? No. But I have to stand up and do it because I have to represent my team, represent the ‘Who Dat nation’, and that’s my responsibility. So it’s the commissioner’s responsibility to do the same thing, and yet we don’t hear a peep for 10 days. And it’s because he has to do it now because he’s at the Super Bowl and he does his annual press conference.”

Goodell did finally address the issue on Wednesday, and suggested that pass-interference penalties might get added to replay review:

Goodell, speaking at his annual state-of-the-league address, said the league’s competition committee will consider the prospect of making interference rulings subject to review by instant replay, although he stopped short of declaring that he favors such a modification to the sport’s replay system. He said he never considered overturning the result of the game and ordering it to be replayed from the point of the missed call, believing that he does not possess the authority to do so even if so inclined.

“It’s a play that should be called,” Goodell said. “We’re going to make sure that we do everything possible to address the issues going forward and see if there are improvements we can make with instant replay or anything else. I understand the emotions.”

The tumult over the interference non-call has continued into Super Bowl week.

“We understand the frustration that they feel right now,” Goodell said of the Saints and their fans. “We certainly want to address that. Whenever officiating is part of any kind of discussion postgame, it’s never a good outcome for us. We know that. Our clubs know that. Our officials know that. But we also know our officials are human.”

Great! Let’s add even more replays on penalties and non-penalties, and string games out to a five-hour average. That’ll work! The better option is to allow the booth review official to call a penalty on a flagrant violation in real time, using the same mechanism by which they can force a player to the sidelines for a concussion evaluation. They will have 30 seconds or so to do a quick rewind and confirm the penalty before stopping play. That should be enough to catch the egregious misses, such as what happened in New Orleans.

In the meantime, Saints fans will have to satisfy themselves by preparing for next year. And maybe rooting for the Patriots on Sunday, although that may be a little too painful.