The Six Pack: Officially Perturbed
1) I'm not going to spend too much time dwelling on the Redskins loss to the Rams, enough has been said about that already. I will say that the optimist in me sees the loss as a potentially useful one. If the team comes away from that game knowing that they aren't likely to blow their opponents out, that each contest they play will be close, hard fought contests, they will be a better team for having lost. I'm also glad that the Browns won, and not just because of the assist in the NFC East standings. Winning the way they did means there is no chance the Redskins will take them lightly.
2) I would like to take some time to address the officiating situation in the NFL. The litany of blown calls, some of them game-changing, are not new so much as they have occurred in games that brought them into sharper focus. The phantom flags, the totally obvious but completely missed penalties, the confused masses of referees huddling to reach some (occasionally errant) conclusion, none of that is specific to 2008. One imagines that, at this point, the league has a form letter for the apologies it (rarely) issues to teams when they grudgingly admit an official made a mistake.
3) I understand that the league cannot put itself in a position in which it apologizes for every bad call, to do that would undermine any sort of confidence in the officiating. Nor do I put much stock in the notion that rouge officials are making up calls because they have money riding on the outcome of the game they are officiating. I'd be lying if I said I put no stock whatsoever in that notion, I'm a longtime NBA fan and I've long suspected some nefarious officiating in that league. The Tim Donaghy scandal obviously served to simply lend further credence to my suspicions. But in the NBA, the officials call can't be questioned, save for some rare instances (usually involving a shot clock) plays are not reviewable.
4) On a practical level, it just wouldn't make a great deal of sense for an official to gamble on an NFL games. There are far too many variables -- independent of a coach's ability to overturn a call with a challenge -- which can occur in the course of an NFL game for gambling to make much sense. You would need an orchestrated effort involving large groups of officials who would not only be cheating in unison but who also would have backup plans should a fluke play or injury throw a wrench into their initial scheme. Officials aren't even allowed to visit a city with a casino in it during the off-season without notifying the league. That's just far too many moving pieces for a bunch of guys working at a part-time job.
5) And that's the rub: officiating is a part-time job. I'm baffled by that. The NFL puts a multi-million dollar product on the field, it rakes in cash by the handful on a weekly basis. The officials have a very direct impact not only on the outcome of the games but on the integrity of the product. My own belief about the likelihood of gambling aside, one need only to look at the NBA to see what a lack of faith in the officiating can do to a fan base. If people believe they're getting cheated on a regular basis, they will stop watching. Will they leave in droves? No but they can potentially have a quantifiable impact on the bottom line. And, even if that affect were negligible, one would think the league would value its appearance and integrity enough to value officials enough to hire them full-time.
6) I know ... fine, I hope ... that it can't be a question of money. Between advertising revenue, ticket, concession and merchandise sales, I refuse to believe that there isn't enough to hire these guys full-time. Note, I am not suggesting that is a panacea. Nor am I suggesting that current officials do not work hard or spend time preparing for the season. But they do so on a limited basis knowing that it's not their full-time job. Establishing a group of full-time officials would allow the league to set certain expectations of officials. It would allow them to begin to cultivate the next generation of officials, something that is sorely lacking right now. They could reasonably tell the officials, as employees, we have certain expectations for your on-field performance, if you fail to meet those, we will fire you. The league has demonstrated what I perceive to be a certain arrogance on this issue. That has to end. Whether it's a fear that fans will leave or (one would hope) a desire to have the best product possible, it's time for the league to address this in some way. Saying we're sorry rings hollow when you allow the problem to exist in the first place.
This article was released on 2008-10-15.
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