Using Instant Replay to Challenge a Call in American Football - dummies

Using Instant Replay to Challenge a Call in American Football

Under the instant replay challenge system, a football coach who disagrees with a referee’s call can ask the referees to review that call with instant replay. (The NFL resurrected this system in 1999 after trying and abandoning it in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the NCAA has been using instant replay since 2004.) Coaches can challenge up to two calls per football game. However, if they challenge a call with instant replay and the referees decide after reviewing it that the call stands, the team that issued the challenge loses a timeout.

instant replay football official
©Shutterstock/Peter Kim

To challenge a call, the coach must make the challenge before the football is snapped and the next play begins. To signal a challenge using instant replay, the coach throws a red flag onto the field of play. Usually, football coaches wait for the replay to be reviewed in the coaches’ booth upstairs, or they view the play on the stadium’s big screen before issuing a challenge.

The instant replay challenge system has its supporters and dectractors, for the following reasons:

  • Supporters: Say that challenges make the game more fair. The speed of the modern game puts a real strain on a referee’s ability to make accurate calls. Instant replay challenges offer teams an opportunity to reverse the occasional bad call.

  • Detractors: Say that instant replay challenges slow down the game and aren’t “instant” at all. As well as the usual interruptions for timeouts, clock stoppages, and penalties, instant replay challenges take away the very thing that fans love most about football — its speed and excitement.

Instant Replay: 2019 changes to the NFL challenge rules

Regardless of fan opinions, instant replay is a tactic used by football coaches to challenge a call. In addition to these requested reviews, all scoring plays and turnovers (fumbles and interceptions) are automatically assessed by the replay official and also the NFL’s officiating executives in their New York replay room.

New for the 2019 season, coaches will be allowed to challenge pass interference penalties. They also will be able to challenge a non-pass interference call like the one that Saints’ fans believe cost them a win in the 2019 NFC Championship game.

Supporters of instant replay say that this challenge will make football games more fair. But challenging whether a penalty should have been called or not called will put immense strain on replay officials and the officiating executives in New York to make the correct call.

*This article has been amended to include 2019 changes to the NFL Challenge rule.