What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
Being an National Football League (NFL) fan these days also means wading through a quagmire of bad officiating. I’m married to a hardcore New Orleans Saints fan who still hasn’t gotten over that egregious non-pass interference call in the NFC Championship game against the Rams. As blatantly awful as that was, it is by no means to only example of horrid officiating NFL fans have had to endure. Granted the entire history of sports is filled with tales of teams getting hosed on calls, but the NFL has taken it to new levels in recent years.
What’s unique to the NFL’s problem is that it’s much more than just the competence of the officials in play here. The league itself has done many things which created new problems for the officials, or exacerbated ones which already existed. That’s why unlike most previous installments in this series, the steps I’m proposing need to be followed in order, because the process of how the NFL got into this into this mess is the proverbial “peeling back of the onion.” It grew as big as it did layer by layer, and it needs to be peeled back the same way.
1) Drop the pretense about “player safety.”
This is the reason half of these bad rules exist in the first place; this is how tackling the quarterback has become “roughing the passer.” This is how we got this incredibly inconsistent “targeting” stuff. The root cause of all this is two-fold. The pain point for the NFL in all of this is the heath-care issues for former/retired players and the “concussion” lawsuit which sprang from that. As a result, the NFL flooded itself with rules under the guise of “player safety,” all of which either make the game hard to watch and/or are too complex not to be mishandled by officials on a regular basis.
The conversation about how to fix all these rules can grow into a complex discussion, but the starting points are easy.
2) Abandon the “perfection” standard.
You’re never going to get everything right, so stop trying to achieve an impossible goal. Worry as much about the flow and momentum of the game than preventing mistakes, because they are equally as destructive to the quality of the game. Increasing one for the sake of the other solves nothing.
3) Strip the rulebook and simplify the remaining rules
The two groups of people who get second-guessed more than anybody else are cops and NFL refs. That’s because we expect them both to make split-second decision on complicated matters, and we hyper-scrutinize everything they do. The easiest way to make a “C” student into an “A” student is to make the homework easier.
Let’s be honest. There’s no real reason why an NFL referee explaining a call should sound like a prosecutor making a closing argument. That happens because the rules are far too complex and there’s too many of them. We don’t need rules for “illegal contact” and “pass interference.” We don’t need separate rules for “roughing the kicker” and “running into the kicker.” We certainly don’t need separate penalties for “roughing the kicker” and “roughing the passer,” and we certainly don’t need 45-second explanations as to the differences.
While we are at it, we certainly don’t need different rules for fumbling into the end zone versus anywhere else on the field; we don’t need different rules about maintaining possession going out of bounds versus into the end zone, and we certainly don’t need those differences being used to convolute the whole “catch/not a catch” thing.
The bottom line…when you have terms being used like “the process of the catch,” your process itself needs streamlining.
4) Increase the number of officials on the field
Think about it. There are 22 players on the field for every play, but only seven officials. How many times do you think calls get missed because an official is running to a spot he’s supposed to be in to make the call? The speed and style of the game has changed dramatically since this original seven-official configuration was devised.
Just watch a long scoring play and look at the official.. They are usually middle-aged guys running down field trying to keep up with an athlete in his prime. Now think of how often this is happening on every pass play more than 20 yards downfield.
The idea here isn’t really that much different than streamlining the rules; it’s all about simplification. Not only do we need to make the rules less confusing, we can add to that by reducing what each official has to cover.
5) Drastically re-vamp replay review
Face it, replay review is not only the biggest eater of the clock in this game, it also allowed for all the ridiculous counting of all the grains of sand on the beach that nearly every replay review has become. In an ideal world, I would get rid of replay review entirely, because everything I said would happen because of it has happened. But I also know that the replay genie isn’t going back in the bottle anytime soon…so, here’s what needs to happen.
First, the NFL needs to pare down what the officials on the field can review. That needs to be limited to scores, turnovers. in/out of bounds and ball spotting/down and distance. Coaches can only challenge what on-field officials can review. Second, in addition to adding officials, each one on the field has a partner in the booth who can also call penalties. The officials in the booth can also over-ride penalties called on the field. Once play stops on the field when a flag has been thrown, the officials in the booth have 20 seconds to review the call and vote to uphold the call or pick-up the flag…a 2/3 majority makes the final call. If there’s no decision after 20 seconds, the play clock starts and the game resumes.
All video review are subject to the same standards. 2/3 majority of the booth officials overrides the call on the field, no decision within 20 seconds automatically means the call on the field stands. Lastly, the standard about “conclusive video evidence” needs to abandoned. Once under review, the call on the field is irrelevant in the decision made by the booth officials. They call it as they see it, period.
6) Fire bad officials
After his team got jobbed by yet another “quick” whistle, Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said something undeniably true.
“My biggest thing is, referees aren’t held accountable. Coaches get fired. General managers get fired. Players get cut. Referees aren’t accountable. And it’s a shame. It’s been that way for 40 years and now that we’ve got a new agreement, it’ll be that way for 40 more years.”
You know he’ll be sending a check to the league office for saying that, but he’s absolutely right. The two guys who blew that pass interference call in the NFC Championship game in New Orleans should have called on the carpet and fired the next day. Most other people get held accountable for their job performance, why should NFL officials be any different? Don’t hand me any crap about union issues. Put in the next collective bargaining agreement, and if they don’t agree to it, don’t renew the contract and hire a truckload of college officials
Think about it. We could use data from point #5 to hold officials accountable. Officials who get a lot of their calls/non-calls over-ruled get the gate…it could be that easy.
The biggest problem…I’m not sure the NFL has the will to do any of this.
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