NFL officiating needs a complete overhaul


Get it right.

That’s the goal of officiating in every sport, at every level.  For the NFL, which has seen its popularity skyrocket over the past 20 years, getting it right has never been more important.

So why are NFL officials getting so many calls wrong?

To answer that question, and to improve the product, the NFL needs to be willing to consider revolutionary changes, beyond putting cameras in the pylons or using lasers to determine first downs.  The league needs to consider completely revamping its officiating function.

That doesn’t mean hiring officials on a full-time basis.  While doing so would create the impression that the league is doing everything in its power to reduce the mistake rate to Blutarski’s (or at least Flounder’s) GPA, the use of human beings will continue to entail the reality of human error.

Along with human nature.

Peter King of recently finagled total access to referee Gene Steratore and members of his crew for a full week.  Among the eye-opening (but not shocking) revelations?  Officials obsess over their grades like a teenage girl obsesses over her Twitter followers.

It makes sense, given that the NFL determines postseason assignments (including the coveted Super Bowl gig) based on the number of mistakes an official makes during the course of a season.   Still, the notion of grading officials for hair-splitting decisions made in a real-time crucible occupied by young, large, strong, and fast men wearing full football-equipment potentially puts too much pressure on them to make the right decision.

The league’s new V.P. of officiating gets it, even if he doesn’t yet have the juice to fully change it.

“One of the things I’m loving about Dean Blandino is his attitude of, ‘Guys, let’s stop officiating for the grades. Don’t worry if it’s a coin-flip play and you were downgraded,'” Steratore tells King.  “‘Let’s dissect it, and let’s learn from it.'”

Then why not ditch the grading process entirely?  That could be Blandino’s eventual goal.

That said, the NFL needs a system for spotting the guys who are simply getting too many calls wrong.  In those situations, where a guy is getting too close to having too many mistakes, the pressure of a grading system can’t make the situation much worse.  For those good officials who become consumed — especially late in the season — with fear that another mistake will mean the difference between working a playoff game or working the Super Bowl, the higher stakes could fuel a flub.

That’s just one aspect of the system the league needs to change.  With players constantly getting bigger, faster, and stronger, it could be time to remove middle-aged-and-older men from the vortex of metal, plastic, and muscle, and to handle the bulk of the officiating function from the booth, with binoculars and the many network camera angles helping to spot the fouls and to determine when and where a guy stepped out of bounds and at all times to get it right the first time, even if it takes a little time to get it done.

Currently, every fan watching the game at home enjoys a perspective that is at least as good if not even better than anything the officials can see in real time.  Cameras blanket the gridiron, and the league could, with some creativity and determination, devise a system that would allow the game to be officiated even better from above than it is being officiated from field level.

For a league that constantly strives to improve, lingering flaws in the officiating function become more and more glaring.  At some point, the NFL needs to realize that the current system is as good as it can possibly be, and in turn to start looking for a better system.

86 responses to “NFL officiating needs a complete overhaul

  1. The problem lies with the people at the NFL that write the rules. They are pretty much incompetent. The NFL needs to realize that just because someone had valuable insight 30 years ago doesn’t mean they have it now.

  2. I agree that technology is available to improve the officiating. The are also too many vague rules that require too much interpretation from game officials. Holding is among the most inconsistent infraction called from one game to the next ( often one play to the next ). The NFL should decide what absolutely constitutes a hold then demand officials call it. I absolutely agree that they need to revamp the officiating system.

  3. I’ve always thought it was funny how they just eye ball it when spotting the ball and they only really get serious about getting the spot exactly right when a spot is challenged.

    How many 3rd down and 4th down conversion attempts that failed by less than 6 inches are as a result of the ball not being spotted correctly on prior downs?

  4. No, dont get rid of the grades. get rid of telling the refs after the games.

    Make the grades available to them halfway through the season, quarterway through.

    This prevents refs for focusing on the minutae, and encourages them to get the whole picture correct, as well as still providing feedback.

    Alternatively, as the lion fan so adeptly stated above me, trim the fat from the rule book.

  5. Well the league needs to implement something quick because the fans of the NFL may leave entirely causing revenue to be non-existent. Then the referees won’t have to worry about messing up on any blown calls because they won’t have a job to continue messing up on blown calls. Get it right or suffer downgraded ratings period.

  6. yes blandino is awesome LMAO

    not only was the call completely wrong in the patriots panthers game, which could have decided the fate of the game


    blandino stood up to the world to explain why it was the right call and this completely contradicted the rules

    according to awesome blandino you can bear hug and tackle a player once the ball is in the air and as long as that reciever cant catch the ball.

    this guy is a joke and so are all the refs under his rule, never saw it thisbad under pereira

  7. Lol. This didn’t cost the Redskins their season. I’d blame that on
    An injured qb that isn’t fully healthy,
    The worst defense in football,
    Offensive line that doesn’t block,
    No early draft picks,
    Receivers that can’t catch a cold,
    Horrible coaching calls.

    But yea, the refs likely missed some calls that would have resulted in a better season of 4-12

  8. The League should use lasers to mark the first downs. C’mon Goodell, time to EMBRACE technology.

  9. The “progression” of officiating in the NFL and trying to make the game perfect in each and every instance has caused this to occur. Taking the human element out of the game has caused officials to become lazy. They dont have to get the right call now because replay will correct it. Get rid of replay and this all changes.

  10. Reduce the rule book and allow for some minor or judgment call style mistakes because they are human..but not total incompetence.. Allow challenges to any play.. Blandino is still a tool.. Give me Jerry Seeman and Art McNally running the officiating office again any day..

  11. It is mind boggling to think that in this day and age of space age technology, a multi billion dollar enterprise like the NFL relies on 2 sticks and a length of chain to measure first downs. Pitiful.

  12. A lot of this could probably be resolved if the head of the crew and a couple of assistants were stationed in the booth watching a bank of monitors instead of being on the field. That way, the head of the crew could be watching for things missed in real time rather than having to wait for challenges and could instantly overrule mistaken calls on the field without having to go under the hood to do it.

  13. Please quit complaining about the refs! Remember Last season when the ” real refs” came back and players shook their hands, fans applauded them and the media loved them! No one wanted the replacement refs due to one call that made Packer fans upset, which by the way went to the replay booth by a regular NFL Official ruled a TD on the Hail Mary. QUIT COMPLAINING BOUT THE REFS!

  14. The problem is not just the officials themselves. Here is what I think needs to change:

    —Ability to challenge any play or call, with limits on number of challenges like we have now

    —All penalties automatically reviewed upstairs. Still let coaches challenge.

    —Create a War Room like in the NHL

    —Rule clarifications and simplifications (such as what constitutes a catch)

    —No yardage penalty should exceed a net loss of 15 yards. Eliminate spot of the foul on PI.

    —Offensive holding: 50 yard runs should not become 10 yard losses because of holding somewhere (anywhere) on the field. The team who is held should get to choose where the ball is…either at the spot of the foul, or 10 yards back from the END of the run.

    –Reduce procedural foul rules (examples: “inducing a false start” on defense, illegal formation on offense because a guy a 1 inch too far back, ineligible receiver down field). Let them play.

    –Consider eliminating the two foot rule, going to one foot in bounds. The league wants more offense, because offense is exciting. Why not do this?

    –No game should end in a tie. Period.

  15. At some point, the NFL needs to realize that the current system is as good as it can possibly be, and be satisfied.

  16. A huge step forward would be constant replay in the booth like college games. Wait…that probably makes too much sense and how could the NFL ever adopt something started in college!

  17. This new generation of referees misses A LOT MORE calls.

    It’s a game speed issue compounded an increase in rules and a lower character generation of players who cheat/break the rules more often.

  18. So if I wrote an editorial about bad calls, I can get a pass but if I comment an article, noting the inconsistencies around the officiating, I am a cry baby???

  19. The thing I can’t understand when it comes to officiating is the difference between crews. I’ve been watching football for over 40 years, and I used to be able to reasonably see a call, and know what it was and why. However now I just have no idea what half the calls are for, or when they go to review if it’s going to be upheld or over turned. I’m sure they probably do something along these lines already, but I would think they have film from each and every game, and the head guys would be reviewing these calls, and making up some kind of mash up of calls and detailing what is and isn’t pass interference, holding etc. Plus don’t you think there would be some sort of test on these videos, to find out which officials have a completely different view of pass interference vs. other officials. I think if officials had something they could look at and view and know what is and isn’t a penalty, they would all be on the same page. How can one guy see pass interference so differently from another? The only reasoning could be that the official believes in his call. He believes in his call, because he’s not shown any film showing him the correct call. That’s why I believe officials should be year round jobs, and during off season it should be required that all officials watch all games, and then be tested on the calls of those games. Those that deviate from what is acceptable get extra training, or dismissed. But Someone needs to sit down and show them clear concise material on what is and isn’t a penalty.

  20. The NFL tried to overhaul the system last year. Younger refs with more accountability and more training year around.

    This site along with every other media outlet blasted the league unmercifully for taking a stand regarding the refs. Instead of supporting reform, this site along with the game announcers such as Pat Summerall crucified the league.

    Now that you have what you campaigned for you realize you were wrong. It’s to late. The refs have iron clad contracts and no accountability for bad calls. I’m still not sure why you thought the regular refs were all that hot to begin with. The biggest difference between the replacements and the regulars was that, up until now, mainstream media swept the multitude of refereeing errors under the rug.

    You are only seeing now what most of us have seen for years.

  21. Refs aren’t the problem. The rules that are as difficult to understand as the IRS tax code is the problem. I don’t remember refs in the 80’s making the same mistakes. Of course, the rules told them what a “catch” was back then.

  22. Lasers and cameras in the pylons? Let me fix this BS right now:
    Go back to the original rule book and keep it simple. Too much of this splitting hairs with these new complicated rules that are added yearly is the problem.
    Dump the “rules commitee” and let’s get back to playing football the way it was intended to be played and officiated.
    The League and all it’s bogus gurus are the real problem here, not the refs in general

  23. I’ve been a football ref (high school) and I think some rule changes might simplify things and lead to greater accuracy. For example make the helmet and the not the football the thing to use for marking the players progress. Using the football, as is currently the system and you have this crazy system where the player is knocked out at the 2, but reaches out with the football and it is counted as a touchdown. Or they are reaching out, and hit the ground and the ball comes loose and the question becomes did the ball cross the line before or after the knee touched the ground, almost impossible to tell in a lot of situations. If you’re going the electronic route, a device could be placed in the helmet which could be tracked from the sideline and would tell you for sure if a td or first down had been achieved.

  24. the redskins do a damn good job of losing their games get over it already your team sucks this year and will continue to do so many years after this that’s what a real logical voice says!

    @ logicalvoicesays. GO COWBOYS!!!

  25. Instant Replay is the problem. Officials are making or not making calls because they no there is another source for review. Refs no longer are freely making calls based on what they feel actually happens.

    Plus now there are so many cameras everywhere its so easy to pick on the refs and find the errors. Imagine if there were as many hi-def camera angles for the Immaculate Reception?!?!

    Also so many of instant replays end up being subjective based on fuzzy inconclusive video that may or may show the ball hit the ground…Why go through the bother of reviewing when one ref can call it one way and another official the other?

  26. A complete overhaul is a long term project. The officiating is rapidly making the NFL product un-watchable so they need to make some changes sooner rather than later. Make the officials jobs easier by removing the inconsistent and vague definitions of things like pass interference and what constitutes a catch.

    The myriad of ridiculous rule changes and complexities is what got you here…start by addressing that.

  27. I’m still of the mind that full-time officials would improve the officiating. They could work simulated games that computer geeks could create on video. They could spend big chunks of the offseason in classes learning the rule book better. They could work the team mini-camps and tour during OTAs. And they could hire younger people with a few years’ less experience in high school and college. Since they would be working only this job, they could get up the learning curve faster.

    How could them being full-time make it any worse??????

  28. You say you need a system to identify the officials prone to making mistakes. Nonsense….I’ll give you one….Jeff Triplette. There, now you can devise a system just as easy to find the other laggards that take up time on Sundays….and while you’re at it, count Hochuli in there too as he’s just as egregious.

    But for the record, Blandino or any other warm body is simply but a shill for The Shield. The NFL’s sole and only goal is to print money and keep the printers running.

    If the NFL figured out that letting one team win every game Harlem Globetrotters-style would maximize revenue, that’s what they would do. Now, they’ve figured that having every team with a pulse alive in the “playoff hunt” until December is a good thing irrespective of whether a watered down product rife with vague and easy to maniuplate rules is now the norm.

  29. “NFL officiating needs a complete overhaul”

    …Says every fan who has watched even a quarter of an NFL game, in the biggest understatement in the history of the universe.

  30. How about adopting the NHL system, where they have a czar in the “Situation Room” at headquarters who makes the final call? You can have a group of officials watching every game from all different angles, and in constant contact with the officials at the game, ready to overrule their decisions. It works well in the NHL and their games are not any slower than they were before their system was instituted.

  31. Agreed. I’d even be willing to fly out to the NFL league office at my own expense and show them how I think is the best way to do it. I think I can eliminate virtually any officiating problem or concern, as well as helping the NFL make a lot more profit by having a professional game for the rest of the sports world to marvel at how fantastic it is, instead of laughing at it.

  32. Careful what we ask for. The old adage is they could call “holding” on every play. Would we watch the game if they did? I want improvement as much as the next guy but I’m leery of removing all or even most judgment.

  33. They need fined and or or suspended you can’t expect the players to know the rules when the guys officiating don’t it’s honestly embarrassing they make the NBA refs look like state of the art officials

  34. We want technology refs!! Not men who can lose their vision and/or be tempted by the evils of gambling!!!

    You’ve seen baseball and basketball make technology changes in the last years, but why no Football???

    National fixed league will only be “fixed” ones it gets rid of biases officials who are concerned with spread lines and keeping the games close..

    Technology refs would be more efficient, faster, cheaper, and CORRECT. 7 days out of the week, 365 days out of the year.

    Unfortunately the national fixed league is more concerned with the interests of Las Vegas than they are with upholding the integrity of the game and making the
    correct calls.

    Fun fact: less than 10 percent of NFLs pink merchandise(pink gloves, cleats etc. worn all October) profits go to cancer research. So out of every 100$ the NFL made off of pink cancer merchandise, less than 10$ went to cancer research.

    Stay classy, Roger Goodell & friends.

  35. There are several things that could be done.

    1) Full time officials are a great first step. They should all be full time employees and spend the entire off season watching film and reviewing rules. In the real world full time employees are known as ‘professional X’, X being their jobs. The NFL could use professional officials.

    2) BB had the right idea. Let the HCs use their challenges on anything. The 2 (rarely 3) shots they get are baked into the game schedule anyway. If they see something wrong, let them help.

    3) Give the refs access to the cameras if they are unsure while conferring on the sideline. If they need the help and the NFL has it, let them use it.

    That will not fix everything but it would likely make a difference. The one bad idea I see floating in the article is to end the grading system. Why would anyone want that? The refs aren’t doing the best jobs with an evaluation system. Why remove the only accountability system they have to deal with? Fix it so it has bite? Yes. Remove it? Heck no!

  36. beerndrums says:
    Dec 4, 2013 4:00 PM
    This wasn’t an issue till the calls went against the cheaters in Patriotville

    That’s so lame dude.

    It became an issue when this past weekend, the officials botched any chance Washington had at coming back in the 4th, and when it allowed the Falcons to tie a game vs the Bills they eventually won when they called a penalty that literally made no sense.

    Meanwhile the right call was made in the Pats game.

  37. In other words:

    There’s a lot of ticked of Patriots and 49er fans that are still sick at the officials for blowing calls that would have potentially won them huge games…

    Ahmad Brooks v. Brees
    Gronk v. Being tackled while trying to catch a ball

    Had the 49ers won that game, like they should have, this SF v SEA game would have SO much more influence.

  38. The Peter King article was great! The NFL should make the weekly report available to the fans. Even make some money off it (of course!).
    Fans may not like the calls against their teams but articles like these shows us the view from the other side.
    Great stuff!

  39. shatho1 says:
    Dec 4, 2013 3:56 PM
    the redskins do a damn good job of losing their games get over it already your team sucks this year and will continue to do so many years after this that’s what a real logical voice says!

    @ logicalvoicesays. GO COWBOYS!!!


    When will you all learn logicalvoicesays writes what he writes to get a rise out of you people, and doesnt mean 99% of the things he says?

    he’s a toll, and a good one, because you all bite for his bait every single time he posts. I swear, this forum has made me realize how terrible America’s grip on sarcasm is as a while.

  40. The NFL is a business like any other. They need to be able to control the outcome of the game with different calls. PI calls for example are a prime example. Or holding. It’s rigged but hey it’s still fun.

  41. How about start by not letting Steratore officiating pittsburg games. He’s from pittsburg.

    Remember the dolphins/steelers game from a couple of years ago? he gave the game to the steelers because he’s a fan

  42. weizdumm says:
    Dec 4, 2013 3:33 PM
    I’ve always thought it was funny how they just eye ball it when spotting the ball and they only really get serious about getting the spot exactly right when a spot is challenged.

    How many 3rd down and 4th down conversion attempts that failed by less than 6 inches are as a result of the ball not being spotted correctly on prior downs?
    The reality is even worse than you mention. Outside of a spotting the ball at a specific yard line (touchback, foul in the end zone, etc.), the officials eyeball the spot, then the chain gang eyeballs that for the beginning of the 10 yards to go. Then when a first down is at stake, they bring in the chains to see that it is or isn’t a first down by a link or two of chain. That is one of the biggest farces in football and it always has been. It is often messed up in the heat of a 2-minute drill like we witnessed in the Giants/Redskins game. It has always been a WAG. The chains are just used to make the coaches and fans feel better.

  43. Case in point: Mark Ingram gets excited after a big run and spins the ball and gets called for Delay of Game? Are you kidding me? That never gets called.

    So yes, we need some clear rules and consistent enforcement.

  44. The only way I can handle it at this point is to pretend the refs are the Harlem Globetrotters. “Hah, he threw a flag but it was on an elastic band and flew right back into his hand! And now he’s changing the down marker after the play actually ran! How do they come up with this stuff?”

  45. wtfpft says:
    Dec 4, 2013 3:32 PM
    But how will they screw the Raiders after the overhaul?

    Hopefully the Tuck Rule will be enforced at least once per game against the Raiders, just to keep their fans on the verge of having strokes.

  46. Allow defensive and offensive holding on most situations. This will limit the separation and speed in the game a bit which will reduce injuries. You could even get rid of all the QB and WR protection at the same time. The most important thing is this will reduce the majority of the questionable calls the Refs could make.

  47. Maybe Fox or CBS will let the NFL use their yellow lines. Of course even lasers can’t mark a first down when they can’t spot the ball correctly 87% of the time

  48. Let John Madden come in and totally revamp the rule book, old school style.
    Fire the current corrupt officials and bring in a new set of refs COMPLETELY independent of the NFL and they partner organized crime.

  49. If anyone saw the hit that Michael Brockers put on Josh McCown that caused a fumble return for a TD, you would know that the only logical explanation that ref could’ve given for his unecessary roughness call was, “Well, he hit the QB so hard it had to be roughing.” There is only one solution for this: Helmet-to-helmet contact and all other “tackling” fouls need to be reviewable without exception.

  50. Everyone rags on the NFL for all the safety rules, but no one wants to complain about the old players that sued them and won $750MILLION. If you had to give that you’d sure make the game as safe as possible too.

    Bad refereeing is a product of that as well. Hard to make judgement calls on every play.

  51. The game is so fast and has so many rules it is almost impossible to ref perfectly. I agree less rules and give the coaches 4 or 5 challenges per game on any play or call and have the “NHL” style headquarters make the call within 30 -60 seconds of a challenge. Don’t make the ref on the field waste time walking over and looking at some hidden tv. (why is the tv hidden in the first place?)

    Just like basketball and the charge/block foul and baseball balls/strikes call when things are so fast paced its hard for the human eyes to break down on the spot and see exactly what is happening in the moment.

  52. “Case in point: Mark Ingram gets excited after a big run and spins the ball and gets called for Delay of Game? Are you kidding me? That never gets called.”

    This rule went into effect this season. And, yes, it is stupid.

  53. Fact is these guys not only get things right the VAST majority of the time, they also keep the game moving at an alarmingly good speed, in spite of our insistence that they also get every call right.

    We all need to cut these guys a little slack. IMO they have the toughest job of ANY player, coach or official in ANY sport.

  54. Definitely. And so do the rules. Can we get back to playing football and understand that it is a physical and violent game.

    People get hurt. Creates opportunity for the next guy. For those who won’t sign a waiver or can’t handle it, there is an accounting career.

    Next man up!

  55. So if a ref does a terrible job the only thing happens is a bad grade? If there are no consequences what stops a ref from helping his team win a game. Until there are consequences why would refs want to get better if their getting paid either way? Im sure most try to do a good job but whats it matter if they don’t or throw a flag for their team.

  56. Agree! Nothing annoys me more than watching a game, and a flag gets thrown, and all the refs have to huddle up and discuss it for 3 minutes. Throw flag, announce penalty, move on. Pretty simple

  57. The mistakes are bad, we all know that but more bothersome is when one official of a crew calls PI or defensive holding for the slightest touch of a receiver and another lets it go. It really gets bad when comparing two different crews on PI calls or O line holding calls.

    As fans we’d just like those interpretation calls equal in every game, every week.

    Since they’re judgement calls I assume officials don’t get downgraded for what seem to be terrible, uneven officiating. After all there are hundreds more asinine calls like these then outright mistakes.

  58. The grading system only compounds the “deer in the headlights” syndrome brought on by the nebulous rules. Pass defenders don’t have a chance anymore; nor do receivers.

  59. brutus9448 says: Dec 4, 2013 4:20 PM

    How about start by not letting Steratore officiating pittsburg games. He’s from pittsburg.

    Remember the dolphins/steelers game from a couple of years ago? he gave the game to the steelers because he’s a fan

    My thoughts exactly. I let it slide at the time but after the Miami Patriots game this year I threw in the towel. I will watch my fins but vow to never spend another dime on them. There is no way we have a independent officiating crew. They are biased and beholden to their favorite team. Break up these crews, make them declare who their team is, and never let them officate a game in their division. I loved the replacement refs and felt like I was the only one. Start fining refs for bs calls and they will clean uo quick.

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