The officiating blunders that occurred in Week 10 made us wonder whether it was Week Three all over again.
In one respect, it was.
The common thread between the replacement officials and the regular officials is the replay assistants. Hidden high above field level with access to every camera angle, the replay assistants must decide whether to engage the NFL’s equivalent of the bat signal after scoring plays, after turnovers, during the final two minutes of either half, and during overtime.
The standard is simple. Absent indisputable visual evidence that the call on the field was correct, the replay assistant must buzz down to the referee for the full-blown, on-field replay review by the man in the white hat. If the replay assistant doesn’t call for the referee to review the play at field level, the play stands as called.
If the button isn’t pressed, the play still technically has been reviewed. But it hasn’t been reviewed by the referee.
Executing this standard has proven at times not to be so simple. Two Thursdays ago, a touchdown catch by Chargers tight end Antonio Gates cried out for an on-field review, with Gates losing control of the ball while going to the ground. Though the call likely would have been upheld via on-field review, it needed to be reviewed by the referee. Last Thursday, a goal-line touchdown plunge by Colts quarterback Andrew Luck appeared to be the correct call, but it was sufficiently unclear to compel on-field review.
On Sunday, an obvious fumble by Broncos return specialist Trindon Holliday was simply missed by the replay assistant. Which meant that the referee never had a chance to look at whether the ruling should have been changed from touchdown to touchback.
The problem seems to be that the replay assistants just aren’t good enough.
NBC officiating consultant Jim Daopoulos, who spent more than a decade working as an official (in his first career NFL game, Jim was the recipient of Jerry Glanville’s “not for long” rant) and more than a decade supervising officials, candidly explained during Monday’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBC Sports Network that the replay booth becomes the sanctuary of the officials who can’t cut the mustard on the gridiron. The pay is less and the profile is lower, which means that the subpar officials end up with that assignment.
It’s not clear how the NFL will be able to solve this problem. But it’s a problem the NFL needs to solve, either by tweaking the rules to allow coach’s challenges at all times, or by finding a way to upgrade the quality of these nameless and faceless folks who have a major impact on the outcome of games.