The NFL Referees Association is complaining that the league is publicly saying officials got calls wrong while privately giving the officials high marks when they’re graded by the officiating department. But the NFL says there’s nothing contradictory about what the league says publicly and what officials are told privately.
NFL spokesman Michael Signora told PFT via email that a game official is not necessarily downgraded for the way he called a ruling on the field, even if the league office later decides, with time to study the play closely on replay, that the call was not correct.
“As part of evaluating the performance of our game officials, the officiating supervisors recognize that for an incorrect call on a close judgment play the official may have used appropriate reasoning. On such a call, the official is not downgraded,” Signora said. “In the case of the block on Nick Foles, by rule, it was not a foul because the quarterback was pursuing the play, the contact was not to the head or neck area, and the play was not over. However, the referee – watching the play at full speed and without the benefit of a replay review – judged that the block was late and threw a flag. While not a correct call, we understand why it was made.
“With regard to Husain Abdullah, a player who goes to the ground as part of religious expression should not be penalized. While he did slide immediately before beginning his prayer, this was not a correct call and the play should not have resulted in a penalty.”
In other words, just because a call is wrong, that doesn’t mean the official who made the call gets downgraded.
The bad call on the hit on Foles by Washington’s Chris Baker points to why so many people want personal fouls to be reviewable on instant replay: It’s simply too hard for officials, on a hit that happens in the blink of an eye, to get it right every time, without the assistance of replay.
As for the penalty on Abdullah, the biggest problem is that the NFL’s celebration rules don’t make a lot of sense. Telling players, “Don’t go to the ground unless you’re praying” is just asking for problems, because how is an official supposed to know whether a player is praying or not? And why should exceptions to the rules be carved out for religious expressions anyway?
The rules on celebrations should be tied to the delay of game rule: If a player celebrates in such a way that it delays the game, by knocking the goal post off-kilter when he dunks or staying in the end zone while the officials are trying to spot the ball for the extra point, penalize him for delay of game. If not, don’t penalize him. Asking the officials to figure out which celebrations cross the line into the NFL’s vaguely defined penalty territory is asking the impossible of the officials. It’s not surprising that the officials don’t like it — even if they’re not getting downgraded.