Who works part-time, makes an average salary of $173,000 a year and is often charged with being incompetent? The answer: NFL referees.
Although difficult to quantify, the number of bad or missed calls by professional football referees seems to be at an all-time high. Several teams lost games they should have rightly won this year because of bad officiating. The entire referee crew that worked a recent Monday night televised game from Seattle was suspended the next day because their performance had been so dismal.
In a league where making the NFL Playoffs means many millions of dollars to the participants, missed calls can mean big dollars lost. Players, team owners, sports writers, and fans are more angry and vocal than ever before, or at least it seems that way.
Professional tennis was plagued with the problem of missed line calls and angry player until the Hawk-Eye camera system was installed. Now, in all major tournaments, players, fans and officials can see where the balls actually bounce in relation to the court lines by watching giant TV monitors.
Professional baseball uses instant replay to judge plays in the field but not for called balls and strikes. Statistics show umpires have a 13 percent error rate behind the plate calling pitches in or out of the strike zone. ESPN uses a box grid in the shape of the strike zone that gives the television viewer the exact flight of the ball past the batter. This system is being looked at to possibly replace the umpire and make the calls in the future.
The problem with football and bad referee calls is the game itself. First, the rule book has expanded into a 244 page document filled with so many obscure rules and details that is difficult for anyone to know by memory. Yet the refs are expected to, and announcers and banks of team observers are ready to pounce on them when a rule is overlooked or misinterpreted.
Instant replay is a boon to home viewers but at times a dagger to the heart of a referee. Refs have to make their calls in real time. Instant replay, with slow motion and multiple camera angles, can dissect each play over and over until a consensus is reached as to the correct call. And if you watch NFL games on television, you know a consensus is often not reached. Announcers argue with the final call at times. Even professional referees hired to monitor the games from New York City via television often disagree.
One reason for the anger at bad calls is the role NFL odds play in the sport. One bad call might not decide the final outcome of the game, but it could decide who won or lost their bet because it could affect the point spread.
Many people in professional football are calling for the referee job to be a full time job. Make it a career, not a highly-paid side job. Practicing with the various teams, making calls during practice games, taking time to studying the rules more thoroughly and being incorporated as part of the NFL family could make a big difference in reducing the number of mistaken calls being made.
The game of football itself makes officiating difficult. On a field 120 yards long including end zones and 53 yards wide, the interaction between players is spread out over a large area. With 22 players involved, multiple contacts are made on each play. At times, the ball carrier will literally disappear under a pile of 200-300 pound players all fighting to block or tackle.
It will take a concerted effort by the team owners to improve the refereeing in professional football. Until they decide enough is enough and action has to be taken, it appears the occasional bad call will remain part of the NFL.
Tags: NFL, sports