NFL officiating continues to be a major issue with the game

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images /

NFL officiating will always be called into question but some calls are so painfully bad they are ruining the game.

After last year’s historically awful display of officiating by NFL referees, it didn’t seem possible things could get any worse. After just two weeks of preseason games, it is more than fair to say that if the officiating didn’t get worse, it is at least as bad.

That is completely unacceptable. In the multi-billion dollar industry that is the NFL, it is hard to believe the officials can not be taught how to correctly and fairly call a game.

The situation was so grotesque last year that the rules committee instituted new procedures for correcting blown calls. Giving credit where it is due, that was the NFL’s acknowledgment that some of these referees just flat out stink.

In last Thursday’s Redskins/Bengals game one call was so egregious that it left Joe Theisman speechless. It’s a safe bet that has never happened before. Coach Jay Gruden, normally one of the most laid back coaches in the league, looked like he was about to take a swing at the ref. Then he apparently realized that these kinds of calls are now reviewable. There was no need for bloodshed, just toss your red flag at the feet of the ref and all will be right in the world.

Then, to the shock of every coach, every player, and every fan watching this game the call was upheld. For those who have not seen this travesty a Cincinnati wide receiver, leading with the crown of his helmet, nailed a Washington defensive back in the side of his helmet. It did not appear intentional and probably should have been a no-call but apparently, NFL officials have been instructed not to use common sense on the field of battle.

The Redskin defensive was so incredulous at the initial call that his reaction elicited yet another flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. The end result of this blown call was that, as a result of being blasted on the side of his head by an opposing player’s helmet, two 15 yard penalties were assessed.

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Even the football gods were not going to let this injustice stand and a Redskin DB promptly returned an interception 96 for a touchdown. But terrible calls do not always get rectified in such a manner. In fact, more often than not, they decide the outcomes of games.

The rules committee and seemingly everyone involved with the NFL has taken a stab at correcting the dismal performance of NFL referees. But, challenge flags, booth reviews, and even intervention from higher powers seem incapable of correcting the ongoing carnage.

This has been a problem forever but most NFL diehards agree that last year’s officiating was the worst ever. Quarterback turned broadcaster Troy Aikman led the charge against the officials last year, as he constantly criticized the officials for making terrible calls. Of course, he had a lot to work with but nonetheless, he tried to hold them accountable.

It concerns me that we’re already hearing the obligatory comments from NFL regulars citing that it is “preseason for the referees too”. Deja Vu anyone? Last year’s preseason officiating seemed particularly flawed and we heard the same feeble remarks. Unfortunately, the calls did not improve once the regular season began. In fact, they appeared to get worse and worse as the season progressed culminating of course with the Rams/Saints game.

It wasn’t until the Super Bowl, when the officials obviously made a conscious decision to stay out of it, that we saw a competently offiated game.

For the life of me, I can’t understand what is so incredibly difficult about officiating an NFL game. If a referee saw a penalty, and he’s sure he saw a penalty then he should throw his flag. If he didn’t see a penalty, or he’s not sure he saw a penalty he should not throw a flag. It’s not rocket science.

However, their inability to call a fair game is ruining the game. People are not going to bet on games that are decided by the referees and not the players. In time, fewer and fewer people will watch the NFL’s Game of Flags.

As it is obvious that no one can figure out how to fix this problem I wish we could at least hear the referee explain himself. We see interviews all the time where a reporter asks a player, “Why did you drop the game winning touchdown pass?”

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We have become accustomed to hearing coaches grilled after a loss with searing inquiries such as, “Do you think going for it on fourth down cost your team the game?” Why don’t referees have to explain their impact on the game. We live in the age of football when a blown call by a referee is just as likely to decide the outcome of a game as a dropped pass or a missed tackle. Wouldn’t it have been nice to ask the referee, “Why did you deprive us of a Brady-Brees Super Bowl?”