The 2015 NFL season has had its share of officiating blunders and I am not merely talking about questionable actions on replays where the officials can slow the motion down to stop action for inspection. There have been rules interpretations that have been mistakenly applied leading to suspension of an official for a game and leading to an entire officiating crew being taken off the Sunday Night Game. If there has been a full season of poorer officiating in the NFL’s past, I must have missed it.
I do recall a time when the mantra was that “instant replay” would resolve all controversies and get all the calls right. Well, the current system of coaches’ challenges has been in place for about 15 years now and they still do not get all the calls right. I do recall a time when the NFL officials were locked out and the league used “replacement refs” who butchered games badly until they completely blew a call on national TV (Seahawks/Packers) that changed the outcome of the game and the labor dispute miraculously settled in about 48 hours. That was supposed to assure that they get the calls right too…
Let me ask; how many times this year have you heard this statement or a small variant on this statement:
“I just don’t know what a catch is anymore…”
That is a telling comment because it usually comes from a color analyst who is nominally an “expert”; if that comment was merely the screeching of Joe Fanboy somewhere, you could ignore it. However, we are getting to the point where the NFL may not be able to ignore this kind of thing much longer. I say that because the narrative seems to be changing.
On PTI about a week ago, Michael Wilbon said that the Patriots “were hosed” by the officials in the Pats’ loss to the Broncos. There is more than a semantic difference between “the Pats’ lost on a blown call” and “the Pats were hosed by the officials”. The first comment speaks to officials’ competency; the second intimates officials’ intent. Now, as soon as there is even a whiff of “officials’ intent” in the conversation, you begin to think about “integrity of the game” and stuff like that.
The NFL loves to stand tall and announce its commitment to the integrity of the game – because it has to do that. Never to be admitted in public, the NFL suits know that their game enjoys its 800-lb gorilla status to the fact that people gamble on the games legally and illegally. If there is any perception that the outcomes of said games are scripted in any way, the public’s gambling interest will dwindle and the NFL’s product will be less attractive. The “officiating problems” from 2015 have to be corrected.
I believe that replay has made officials lazy. They know in the backs of their minds that they might get a buzz from the booth to review a call or that a coach may challenge one they make so there is no need to invest the physical and mental energy in getting it right with the toot of the whistle. After all, Big Brother Replay, can set things straight at a more leisurely pace…
In the past, the NFL, the NFLPA and the officials have tried the single-focus solution to problems such as “replay” or “get rid of the replacement refs”. What 2015 has shown, is that the problem(s) are more complex than that.
Now since I mentioned the word “hosed” a couple of paragraphs above, consider please that North Carolina was hosed by the officials in its loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game last Saturday. Trailing by 8 points late in the 4th quarter, Carolina executed and recovered an onside kick giving them a chance to tie/win the game. The officials threw a flag and said Carolina was offside on the kickoff when replay showed clearly that they were not; no Carolina player was even close to being offsides. Why might this be a “hosing” rather than a “blown call”?
Well if you love conspiracy theories consider:
Carolina had been ranked about #10 in the CFP polls going into the game; Clemson was #1.
If Carolina wins and is the ACC Champion, it is possible – even likely – that neither team would make the CFP meaning the ACC would be out of the spotlight for those games.
And who employs the officials? Why the ACC itself. How convenient…
Let me be clear, I do not believe for a moment that conference moguls sat around in a closed room two days before the Clemson/North Carolina game and assigned someone to let the officials know that Clemson had to win that game. Clemson did not have to cover – which they did anyway –; but they had to win – which they did. If you want to make a “hosing argument” that erodes the integrity of the game, you can do so with the video replays from that game.
Reports have it that the Super Bowl halftime act will be a rock group named Coldplay. It should surprise exactly no readers here that I do not know Coldplay from Hotwork or The Hot Toddies. Since this is Super Bowl 50 and the NFL will be flogging the nostalgia angle for that game for all it is worth, I wonder why they did not go back to Super Bowl 1 and invite the Grambling State University marching band to perform. I do not know what fee the NFL will pay for Coldplay’s appearance, but I suspect that the folks at Grambling can use the money more than the rock group can use the money. If you want to make it even better, do a “Battle of the Bands” at halftime with Grambling against Southern.
Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this comment after the Cavs and LeBron James visited Miami for a regular season game:
“Half of NBA fans are talking about Steph Curry’s unbeaten Warriors and the other half are talking about Kobe Bryant announcing his retirement. Meanwhile, the Heat on Saturday hosted the Cavaliers and ol’ what’s-his-name.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………