NFL officials had another rough weekend during the divisional round of the playoffs, highlighted by inconsistency, a botched replay and general incompetence. Officiating has been under intense scrutiny for much of the year, but is it really fair to expect part-time officials to get everything right? Here’s five ways the league can help improve the quality of its officials.
This is a no-brainer. Part-time officials don’t have the time to dedicate to knowing every single nuance of the NFL’s overly complex rule book. By hiring officials as full-time employees, the NFL can give them better instruction, go over more scenarios and have them better prepared for the weekend’s games. For a league that makes billions of dollars, it seems stupid to field part-time officials that have developed a bad tendency of directly impacting the outcomes of games due to missing calls.
Against the San Diego Chargers Sunday night, Broncos receiver Julius Thomas had what appeared to be a catch and fumble on a third down and short. After seeing the replay, it was clear that Thomas bobbled the ball as he was taken to the ground, and it was ripped out long before we could ever consider the “process” of the catch to have been completed.
Instead of overturning the call, the officials stuck with the call on the field of a catch then fumble, despite the lack of any football move that we constantly hear about. Worse yet, had the play happened in the end zone, there’s no way they would have stuck with the call of a touchdown over an incomplete pass.
The NFL has been looking into centralizing its replay similar to the way the NHL handles replay duties. By doing this, the NFL would create consistency where there appears to be incompetence, and it would take no longer than it currently takes by handling the situation on the field. It would also get officials out of the crosshairs of fan outrage, and that can’t be a bad thing either.
Broader Replay Rules
From time to time a play is deemed unreviewable for some obscure reason that makes absolutely no sense in the given context. Late in the regular season, the Steelers blocked a field goal, recovered the ball, attempted a lateral, but the lateral was dropped and a Steelers player hit the ball out of bounds on purpose, drawing an illegal bat penalty. Unfortunately, the officials decided the Steelers had never had possession of the ball, meaning the penalty was five yards and an automatic first down. Pittsburgh attempted to challenge the play, but possession in the field of play on a fumble is, apparently, not reviewable.
Although the NFL has tried to take judgment out of the game, there needs to be some room in the rules for common sense to prevail. The rule preventing possession reviews is intended to ensure that teams can’t review pileups, looking for possession, not to prevent looking at an individual scooping up the ball with no one else around. By allowing officials to take a look at more plays, the NFL can at least give them the tools to correct more of their wrong calls.
Simplify the Rulebook
As previously mentioned, the NFL rulebook is obscenely complicated. After the Broncos, Chargers game, I’m not sure anyone is exactly sure what constitutes a catch in the NFL. It’s gotten so bad that even using slow motion instant replays, officials still aren’t getting calls right. By simplifying the rulebook, the NFL could actually give officials a fighting chance to chalk up more calls in the “nailed it” column than the “whoops” column.
Add in Accountability
At the end of the day, this final suggestion may not be possible due to the officials’ current CBA; frankly, I haven’t read it and I don’t care to do so. Still, it’s apparent that the NFL needs to have some sort of way to get rid of bad officials and/or replace them with others should their officiating drop to the standard of the replacements of a couple years ago. When watching games, we all recognize who the good zebras are from the bad ones. If a game is being officiated by Ed Hochuli, Gene Steratore or Mike Carey, you’re probably in good shape. It’s when we see Scott Green, Clete Blakeman or Jeff Triplette that you have to worry. Developing some sort of method to add some accountability to NFL officiating can’t do any harm, and it would likely improve the overall quality of the officials over the long run.