Open Mic: I Wouldn't Want to Be An Official!

Jason HackettAnalyst IMay 23, 2008

Stating which sport has the hardest job when it comes to officiating is a difficult task, as each sport has its own rules and its own officiating standard. One thing is clear though; throughout each and every sport, fans hate officials. Each sport has its own chant or saying for their officials varying from sport to sport but essentially the same outcome—NOTHING!

Hockey is the latest to make a so-called over haul of their referees in game rules. Although "overhaul" isn't a precise or proper term to use. Following the '04-'05 lockout, the league decided that it would actually have every referee/linesman read and memorize the rulebook. No more Cole's Notes version of the rulebook is offered to each of the officiating crew!

Baseball on the other hand, has basically had the same rules for its umpires for many many years, but problems still occur as it is not an exact science and there are no video reviews for strikes or balls. Even home runs curving around the foul pole can be quite tricky as you are a couple hundred feet away when you make that call. Baseball has never gone too long without a controversial call!

Football has been notorious for allowing should be calls to slide, especially down "in the trench" where holding calls are seldom called as often as they could be. They do offer video review for certain plays, giving the ref the opportunity to make a correction if need be. However, this only occurs within the last two minutes of each half if a call is made from the booth, or for the two opportunities each team has to request such a look be made.

Although the ref has the opportunity to slow the play down, zoom in or out to make a better judgement but it is just that: a judgement. What looks like a catch in bounds from one angle will look out of bounds in another. They also have to call the severity of an infraction. Whether it is a 5-yard, an automatic first down, in rare cases an ejection, etc.

You take a look at European football, a ref is never a couple minutes from one questionable call or non-call before he has to make a judgement call on another play. Players diving, swearing in multiple languages, pushing, shoving, tugging on jerseys, tripping, poking, elbowing, head butting, etc. Within an instant you must make a call, "Shall I allow play to go on? Or is that a carded offense?" No matter what call you make it is forever scrutinized like no other sporting official.

Even for linesman or line judges, depending on who you ask, have a difficult job as well. Judging whether or not a player is onside or not isn't always an easy task. "Is he in line? Am I in line to see if he is in line with the last defender?" There have been many games decided by close calls on offside calls or non-calls. Always looked at after the game by all involved, again it is completely a judgement call.

Golf is rather picky but almost a job that not many know about or heard about or have even seen. The Marshall, as it is put in some areas, decided if the ball was dropped in a safe matter. It isn't exactly as glorious or controversial by any means, but is up to interpretation of the rule. The main thing they rule over is if the players hand in the correct score cards. So in essence you need to be able to count! A simple but necessary position.

How you can really state which has the hardest position in any sport is hard but everyone does have their own opinion. My opinion is biased; I do watch other sports but I tend to stick to hockey for the most part. Hockey in North America must be one of the hardest jobs, as the rules are very controversial to begin with. What is defined as a legal slash is up to interpretation. Same for hooking, boarding, elbowing, high sticking, cross checking, interference, goaltender interference, etc. The only easy call to make is fighting.

Goaltender interference is a hot topic these days. It is almost never a clear cut case. If a defender knocks a forward into his own goalie it's interference on the player who was knocked into the goalie. Not fair by any means and controversial when it is called. Delay of game by shooting the puck out of play from your own defensive zone, even by accident, is a penalty. However, if the puck barely nicks the edge of the glass first, it is not a penalty. A rule that essentially cost the Sabres a Stanley Cup birth a couple seasons ago.

Even better are the rules that constantly change. Go back to 1998-99 season when you couldn't have a foot in crease or a goal would be dissallowed. If you are not interfering with the goaltender at all and the puck goes in, no goal because the tip of a opposition's skate is touching the crease. Even more controversial is when Brett Hull scored the game winning goal in O.T. even though he foot was clearly in the crease.

A couple years later in the '03-'04 season when the Flames supposedly scored the Stanley Cup winning goal that never counted, even though many believed it was clearly in the net. "A picture is worth a thousand words" is permanently tattooed in every Flames fan's memory from that season, as the picture of the puck behind the line was front page material. The league announced that there was no clear proof that the puck was in.

These days, if your stick is parallel to the ice and touches a players midsection, it is a hooking call. Even if there is no hooking motion. If a goalie touches the puck in two oddly shape areas behind the net, its a delay of game call. If a player takes a dive, he gets called for a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. If he didn't dive he would have never had fallen. However, for the player that "caused" the diver to dive also gets a penalty. Doesn't make any sense, but its a rule!

How about having an all out bench clearing brawl and only four people to break up 20 fights!

I know that other sports official's have it tough, such as in baseball. Trying to judge whether a ball moving at 100 mph is within a small zone that changes per player, is very tough. Being able to look at a player's foot and listen for the ball hitting the glove to judge whether a player is out or not is a talent all of its own. However, hockey's rulebook is controversial to most fans to begin with. Plus, every rule isn't an exact science and can be interpreted in many different ways, so you will never get the same officiating level even if you only watch one referee.

With that being said, "I wouldn't want to be an official!"


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