Wednesday, 02 October 2019 08:07

Band of Blind Referees and NFL agreement while blown calls continue

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A remarkable thing occurred this past weekend that should have raised the eyebrows of any fan who has questioned the skill, the intentions and probably the heritage of NFL game officials. On Saturday, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement that goes through the 2025 season. The current deal was set to expire next May. No information was given on improved methods of training or rules reviews or even the hands-off conversation of full-time officials. Nothing other than the subliminal news that the quality of officiating you have been seeing is the same quality of officiating that you will be seeing forthwith.  

 That such a deal would come at a time when game officials seem to be making more and bigger errors on calls and rules interpretations is odd to me. I am certain the officials pushed for an extension – call it job security – because criticism of their performances has come from coaches and players – the people who are affected the most – as well as disgruntled fans. NFL coaches and players probably would speak out more if not for the inevitable fines the league hands out for criticizing officials. They could take a tip from Jim Finks, who, when asked about questionable officiating after a Saints game, told the assembled reporters: “The league office has instructed club officials that we will be fined if we comment on lousy officiating.” 

Working under Finks for seven years, I received a good education of NFL policies and procedures and what happens on both sides of the white lines. But hardly a game goes by that I don't  want to throw the remote control at some pea-head in a striped shirt who makes another bad call. And it’s not only the alleged bad calls against teams I am rooting for, which have been easy to find for anyone who watches Saints games, but I also find myself shouting at the screen even when it benefits my team. Against the Cowboys on Sunday night, I thought the Saints were the beneficiaries of some generous calls that stymied a sluggish Dallas offense. Questionable calls alone did not beat the Cowboys, but they certainly helped the Saints’ stellar defense in the 12-10 victory.  

You might believe that the Saints deserve some love from the zebras after the infamous No-Call during last year’s conference championship loss to the Rams and borderline incidents in the first two games this season. You will remember in the opener against Houston with less than a minute to go in the first half, the Saints were driving to cut into a 14-3 Texans’ lead. But a botched call cost a precious 15 seconds taken off the clock. That could have been enough time for QB Drew Brees to have run two more plays and gotten closer than the 56-yard attempt they were left with that kicker Wil Lutz missed. At least, NFL director of officiating Al Riveron admitted the error at halftime, although it did not appease Brees. “That can’t happen,” he said after the game.  

The refs again fanned the Who Dat flame in the Saints' Week 2 rematch against the Rams, when Cameron Jordan’s fumble recovery and apparent 80-yard touchdown run was called back because the officials mistakenly had blown a whistle and stopped play. Those examples seem to confirm the local belief that the officials hate the Saints. But it’s not only happening to the Saints. Ask the Broncos or the Vikings about the officiating.  

In Week 2, the Bears led the Broncos 13-6 with less than a minute to play, when Denver QB Joe Flacco hit Emmanuel Sanders in the end zone. Coach Vic Fangio audaciously went for the two-point conversion, but his team was called for delay of game. Settling for a game-tying PAT, the long-range kick was missed. But wait! The Bears were called for offsides, and the two-point conversion was back on and was successful. Payback? Nope! With 30 seconds remaining, Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky was sacked, but the officials called Denver’s Bradley Chubb for roughing the QB. (Believe me, I’ve seen the replay and so can you on You Tube, and it was a hard, but clean, tackle.)  

With 9 seconds to go and facing a fourth-and-15 at his own 40-yard line, Trubisky dodged pass rushers then found Allen Robinson for a 25-yard gain, down to the Broncos’ 36 as the clock flashed :00 ! But wait again! The officials ruled the Bears called time out before time expired and put 1 second back on the clock. Eddy Pineiro nailed the 53-yarder. Bears win, Broncos screwed.  

The same week, the Vikings trailed the Packers 21-7 late in the first half when QB Kirk Cousins hit WR Stefon Diggs in the end zone. The officials on the field signaled touchdown, but word came down from above that the play was under review. Dalvin Cook was called for offensive pass interference, and the touchdown was taken down. The Vikings lost the game, 21-16.

The timing of the referees' extension might simply be laid to the fact that the NFL wants to avoid, apparently at all costs, the contentious labor dispute in 2012 when the NFL locked out the officials. The league used replacement officials through the first three games of the season with several calls creating controversy. The trigger to a resolution was a Monday night game between Seattle and Green Bay in which the soon-to-be-known Fail Mary pass from Russell Wilson to Golden Tate was ruled a touchdown after Tate and a Packers’ defender caught the ball simultaneously.  

However, replays showed that Tate shoved a defender with both hands and should have been flagged for pass interference. The photo of the catch showed one official signaling touchdown and another signaling incomplete pass became a poster against replacement officials, and the regular refs were back at work the next week.  

But in the last few months we have lived through far worse calls – or No Calls. So what was the urgency to assure that this band of the blind will stay on the job and continue to dish out more aggravation in the foreseeable future? It might make sense if you look at a typical management view of the nature of a labor union, to protect its rank-and-rile. In other words, unions work to preserve mediocrity instead of promoting excellence. And if recent performance is any indicator, these guys are mediocre at best.

My new book, "Integrated: the Lincoln Institute, Basketball and a Vanished Tradition" is now available from the University Press of Kentucky or at
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