10 Reasons the NFL Has the Worst Officiating of Any Professional Sport

Bob Warja@@bobwarjaSenior Writer INovember 22, 2010

10 Reasons the NFL Has the Worst Officiating of Any Professional Sport

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 07:  A group of referees huddle during their game between the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 7, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Ge
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    There are many potential reasons why officiating has always been questioned in every sport, at least from a fan's standpoint. Let's face it, we're all biased, for one thing. We want our teams to do well and so we often can't see objectively.

    However, today's technology allows us to see many things that we missed in the past, so officials in every sport are under the microscope more than ever.. There are simply better camera angles, and your own home television allows you to watch a replay seven ways to Sunday if you so desire.

    Further, Sportscenter has spawned more shows that focus on everything to do with sports, including the goof-ups. Alright, especially the goof-ups.

    All of this means that a bad call in any sport is unlikely to go unnoticed. However, in the NFL, it seems that officiating has gotten worse than ever, and not necessarily just because of the improved technology. In MLB, there are calls missed to be sure. But then again, there are so many bang-bang decisions for an umpire to make and dammit if they don't often get them right. How many times have you watched a close play at first base and think the call was wrong? Then, you see he replay and sure enough, they got it right.

    Well, not so much in football, for in the NFL, calls are overturned in increasing numbers. So let's take a look at 10 possible reasons why this might be.  

10. The Challenge System & Booth Review

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    There is one school of thought that claims that the ability for NFL coaches to challenge a call in the NFL has actually made officials worse at their jobs. The thinking here is that they can make the call with the knowledge that if it's the wrong call, the coach can simply get it right by throwing the red flag. In the final two minutes, the booth can demand a replay.

    While this may create a false sense of comfort for officials, it is a terrible excuse. I doubt any official would ever admit to this anyway, but if any of them are so cavalier about their calls that they take them lightly, they are doing themselves, the fans, the teams and the betting public a huge disservice.

    The original call is still critical, however since the burden of proof is on changing the call, which means that the original call has an important bearing on the outcome of the challenge if the replays do not show sufficient visual evidence.

    Since the introduction of the challenge system in 19xx, it seems that calls have gotten worse. Still, the NFL would be worse off without it.

9. Gambling By NFL Refs

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    This excuse if probably just as implausible as the replay system is for accounting for bad officiating in the NFL, yet to say it is impossible to even consider would be foolish and naive. Those of us who like to throw down a shilling or two on occasion will tell you that it does seem that some very odd things happen on any given Sunday, and especially on nationally televised games, where the betting public often is at their peak of insanity.

    Dan E. Moldea wrote a book in 1989 that claimed that NFL games have been fixed. According to Interference:  How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football (William Morrow),"over seventy NFL games have been fixed.  Despite the evidence, league officials have long claimed that no professional football game has ever been successfully fixed since the creation of the NFL in 1920."

    Yes, that was a long time ago, but if it happened then, it could happen now.

8. Games Are Less Frequent So Refs Don't Improve

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    As compared to hockey, baseball and basketball, among the major sports the NFL plays far fewer games. That, in theory, results in officials who do not get the game repetition that is necessary to become good at their jobs.

    There are only 16 games played each year, so there are less opportunities for refs to improve. Meanwhile, in baseball, for example, not only are there dozens of bang-bang plays each game, there are 162 of them, so they can get good at making quick decisions. At least that's the theory.

7. The Talent Evaluation System Is Broken

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    Why are their employees in any job that fail? Well, there are numerous reasons but often it's because they aren't suited for the job or the environment in which they work.

    NFL refs do not need any formal education, but why shouldn't they be required to have college degrees or some sort of certification? Hell, even many non-management jobs today demand degreed individuals. Look, this is a bad economy and there are only so many officiating jobs int he league, so why not make it as hard as possible for someone to get that job?

    NFL officials need to display leadership qualities. They need to be decisive, quick thinkers who can be impartial and not let their emotions rule their decision making. These aren't qualities that can be demonstrated by working at a fast food restaurant, folks.

6. The Training Is Not Good Enough

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    The NFL says that their officials have to undergo rigorous training, but much of that is prior to coming to the league. Once there, refs go through training to learn new rules and rules changes, but other than that, they often don't go through extensive training because, in part, they work other jobs.

    Training should include critical core competencies like leadership and effective decision making.

    Further, there are personality components required to be a successful ref in the NFL. You can't have a big ego or be overly emotional, or that will cloud your decision making. Are personality tests routine? The NFL game is played by millionaires. This can lead to players losing control. It is imperative that the NFL referee not lose their composure.

    Is there fitness training? NFL football referees are required to be in almost constant motion in order the referee the action.

    Sure, to be eligible to even apply, you must have 10 years of football officiating experience, including five at major college level. But the NFL is different than high school, collegiate and overseas football. There are billions of dollars of revenue at stake.

5. No Immediate Consequences

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    Sure, by having NFL refs be contract employees it is easier to fire them. But that often occurs after a season, if it happens at all. There needs to be a punishment system set up in the NFL to suspend a ref for one game, for example, for an obviously erroneous call or a blatant mistake that was missed.

    It's just like parenting — if you don't create consequences for your children, they will never learn. Make the NFL refs learn from their lousy officiating and hit them where it hurts — their credibility and their pocketbook.

4. Conspiracy

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    Do some refs seem to have it out for certain teams, coaches or owners? Hell yes. Do some refs seem to want to exact revenge on coaches or players they don't like? Hell yes.

    Look, refs are human and suffer from the normal human frailties  that all of us suffer from. Maybe they can't be objective in a critical game involving their favorite team. Or, perhaps in the back of their mind they think that the Raiders, for example, are a dirty team so they hold them to a different standard.

    Whatever the cause, these conspiracy theories have abounded for many years in the league and many feel they account for at least some of the bad calls in the NFL.

3. Goofy Rules

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    "The ground cannot cause a fumble"? Oh yes it can. It just doesn't count in the NFL, which results in a lot of unnecessary stoppage to analyze plays and often makes the refs end up looking bad. How about if a fumble was a fumble? If the ball comes out before the whistle, it's a fumble, end of story.

    Many of us saw that terrible new rule in play in week one when the Lions lost to the Bears on a call that, while correct, was the result of a ridiculous rule. As a Bears fan I'm thankful, but let's be honest, that was a TD catch and the Lions should have won that game.

    The "end zone celebration" rule is stupid too. Come on, let them celebrate, they just score a TD in an NFL game for crying out loud.

    What's the point of all this? It's that these arcane rules make it harder for officials to understand the game and focus on the basic calls. Make the game less complicated by eliminating silly rules and you would have a better officiated game in my opinion.

2. Show Them The Money!

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    The NFL officials earn the lowest average annual salary of any of the major professional sports in the United States. Boo-fricken-hoo, right? Sure, it's not apples and apples, but NFL refs average $27,000 per year.

    Compared with the NBA ($128,000), the NHL ($139,000) and the MLB ($141,000), this is chump change.

    That's not to say that they don't earn a very good wage especially when you consider they have far fewer games than the other sports. But overall, many of them need to work other jobs.

1. They Are Not Full-Time Employees Of The NFL

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    NFL officials are not full-time employees, they are employed on a contract basis by the NFL. Not only does this reduce their salary, making them more prone to being able to be "bought" by unscrupulous types, it means they often have another job. That makes them less likely to devote all of the full attention on football and becoming better at officiating.

    On the one hand, this is an advantage, as the NFL can eliminate unqualified officials simply by not offering them a contract the following season, where terminating full-time employees would require them to show cause.

    But the distractions of a second job makes these guys less prone to being a good referee due to distractions and time commitments. Many of them are executives in companies, or retired with a pension, and if they miss a call, so what? It's not even their main livelihood.



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