Saints/Rams Controversy Shows Flaws In NFL Position On Game Integrity

Written By Bart Shirley | Last Updated
NFL Integrity
American sports fans are likely to remember this year’s NFC Championship Game for a missed pass interference call. However, the uproar over the blown call highlights an unintended consequence of sports betting‘s proliferation across the country. In the offending play, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman ran over New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis well before a pass from Saints quarterback Drew Brees reached the pair. Virtually everyone who observed the play, including Robey-Coleman himself, believed that he committed defensive pass interference. Unfortunately, the seven officials on the field saw nothing but clean play. Instead of becoming an automatic first down, the play forced the Saints to settle for a field goal. The Rams ended up winning the game in overtime. Saints fans have been crying foul ever since.

The unintended consequence of widespread sports betting

Normally, a blown call like this would generate the usual results. The league would declare that its officials missed the call (which the NFL already has), but the outcome from the game would stand as played. Now, with sports betting available in eight states, sports leagues may not be able to get off so easily. The results of a match now bear significant financial consequences, and those lighter in the wallet might not go so quietly. Whether the lawsuit will find few sympathetic ears in the court system remains to be seen. However, the very last thing that leagues would want is an obligation to answer litigation claims on every single match.

A do-over simply isn’t doable

Unfortunately, the leagues’ greed for integrity fees placed them in the crosshairs for these claims last year. Whether the leagues realized it or not, allying themselves with the notion of preserving game integrity made them responsible for ensuring fair outcomes. If the sports leagues are to receive any remuneration for this task, then bettors will expect game officials to perform with almost no margin for error. Since that standard is impossible to achieve, situations like Sunday’s game are likely to occur over and over again. One possible solution is to attempt to resolve these kinds of situations after the fact. In other words, the leagues could:
  • Set aside outcomes from games
  • Require teams play a rematch
  • Rule that the other team won the game
In fact, hundreds of thousands of Saints fans are demanding the second option right now. They want a rematch of Sunday’s game. Unfortunately, this solution bears its own set of inescapable problems. For one thing, the practical aspects of playing a professional sports match are not simply a matter of finding a field and having the teams or individuals meet there. The tremendous effort to hold an NFL, NBA or any other type of major sporting event cannot occur on a whim. The other issue, at least in terms of the league declaring a new winner or voided outcome, is the liability the league would incur from the other side of the bets. Bettors who initially won their wagers only to have them voided might have an even stronger civil claim against the league for (ironically) interference.

The leagues need to run screaming from the word ‘integrity’

So, the only real solution is that the leagues need to back away from the notion of themselves as guardians of game integrity. As some sports betting industry experts tweeted yesterday: Instead, they need to run their games with as many legal disclaimers as their lawyers can imagine. In other words, the leagues should disavow any presumption of fairness associated with their matches, and place the liability on the viewers and bettors for any decisions made based upon the game outcomes. Otherwise, this situation with the Saints game will be a minor incident. After all, it was probably an honest mistake. Imagine the fallout if a scandal involving actual malfeasance ever surfaces.