As the bellyaching over the officiating in Sunday’s NFL championship games reached unprecedented heights, I couldn’t help but laugh.
Blown calls. Missed calls. Coaches going apoplectic. Bettors crying fix. Fans from all four competing teams with incredulous looks on their faces.
Hello? Have you not been watching the last few years?
The officiating in the NFL has been lousy for quite a while. I guess it takes the hot glare of the spotlight with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line to get everyone’s attention.
When there was no flag thrown for pass interference after the Saints’ Tommylee Lewis gets bodychecked by Los Angeles’ Nickell Robey-Coleman and it ultimately costs New Orleans a trip to Atlanta, and Sean Payton decides to make a big deal about it in his postgame news conference, that gets everyone’s attention.
Never mind the Saints had squandered a 13-0 lead, had gone dormant offensively and allowed the Rams to get back in it. It wasn’t just one non-call that did them in.
The fact is there were several non-calls – facemasks, holding, that weren’t called. That’s the bigger issue.
Same in the New England-Kansas City game. They missed a few there as well. But some of the calls that were made, like the roughing the passer against the Chiefs’ Chris Jones where he never really touched Tom Brady as the Pats were rallying in the fourth quarter was just as egregious as a non-call.
And therein lies the problem. The competency of the guys in stripes comes into question on a weekly basis. They were screwing up in Week 3. They were blowing calls in Week 13. And with that incompetency comes the question of confidence in and the integrity of the game itself.
The NFL is worried about legalized sports betting as a threat to its integrity. Really? When you have games that are over-officiated, wrongly officiated and calls that are blown so badly that even the former refs who work the TV booths call you on it, you have a problem.
Nobody is saying guys who officiate are fixing games or anything like that. I’m talking about enforcing rules that maybe shouldn’t be rules.
When I was eight years old, I knew when someone caught a pass. Fifty-four years later, I’m not so sure. What appears to me to be a good catch isn’t. What I think is a dropped ball is called a completion.
And don’t even get me started on pass interference.
It has gotten to the point where I’m afraid to make a bet on an NFL game. I just can’t trust the officials. One call can change the entire complexion of the game. I don’t have the confidence in the product.
But there’s millions of others who aren’t afraid. And they have a right to trust their investment. Whether you’re betting $5, $5,000 or $50,000, you should have confidence that the game you’re wagering on is being officiated properly and competently.
Instead of pushing back on sports betting, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should be focused on getting better officials who know the rules and apply them properly. Better yet, get the rules back to where we’re playing real football again.
I’m all for player safety. I don’t want anyone’s career to end prematurely. I’m old enough to remember Gale Sayers and how great he truly would have been had he not destroyed his knees in the mid-1960s.
How about make the helmets and shoulder pads safer? How about teaching proper tackling techniques in high school and college so by the time these players get to the pros they’re not putting their opponents and themselves at risk?
Football is an inherently violent game. It always has been. And no matter what the NFL does, it’s always going to have those collisions that leave players with broken bones, concussions and other assorted injuries.
But when the rules are not properly applied, when calls are not made, you have integrity issues. And without integrity, you are no longer a sport. You’re sports entertainment .
Pro sports are hard to officiate. So are college sports for that matter. The athletes are bigger, faster and stronger than ever before. And in real time, things are happening at warp speed. Officials are being asked to make decisions in a split second and get it right.
In football, things are happening all over the field, both around the ball and away from the ball, on every single snap. It takes a tremendous amount of concentration to officiate.
I know the officials prepare diligently, just like the players and coaches do. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Do you make them full-time employees? Do you change the responsibilities of certain officials and give them more power? Or less power? Do you expand replay and coaches’ challenges?
Are you prepared for a four-, five-hour football game in order to get the calls right with added replay?
For now, the players and the public will have to live with the status quo. And that doesn’t do the Saints any good today.
So as you prepare to make your Super Bowl wagers, I say good luck, and tread carefully. The next blown call may cause you to tear up your betting slip.
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