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NFL assigned former Falcons player to officiate Saints-Falcons game

During the lockout of the game officials in 2012, the NFL once removed from a Saints game a replacement official who is a rabid Saints fan. Similar screening procedures apparently don’t apply to the league’s regular officials.

The NFL has confirmed that former Falcons player Phil McKinnely served as the down judge for the Saints-Falcons game. McKinnely spent five years with the Falcons, from 1976 through 1980. He played for the Bears in 1981 and the Rams in 1982.

The strangest aspect of the assignment is that McKinnely isn’t a member of the crew that worked the game. He’s the down judge on Bill Vinovich’s crew, but he was assigned to work on Clete Blakeman’s crew.

“As per standard procedure, both clubs received the officiating crew for Week 14 on November 30,” NFL spokesman Mike Signora told PFT via email on Sunday. “The officiating schedule is made by the NFL Officiating staff, so they determine who is assigned to what game.”

The official game book appearing at NFL.com shows that Hugo Cruz, not McKinnely, served as the down judge for the game.

“The listing of the officiating crew in the game book is based on the home team’s flipcard that is produced for media and the stats crew at the stadium, which generates the game book,” Signora said. “That flipcard was incorrect, which is why listing you saw was incorrect.  It has since been corrected.”

Clerical error notwithstanding, the league apparently has no procedures for ensuring that officials with potential biases won’t be assigned to a given game. And while it’s one thing to say, “Well, the crew has been assigned to the game and he’s part of the crew,” in this case McKinnely wasn’t part of the crew, and he was hand-picked (despite five years of playing for the Falcons) to work the Saints-Falcons game.

“Officials rotate on crews throughout the season,” Signora added. “In about 40 percent of all games to date, you have not had the complete ‘crew’ that started together in Week One.”

None of this means there was any impropriety, notwithstanding the inconsistencies in the calls that were made during the game. But it creates an appearance of impropriety no different than the appearance of impropriety that prompted the NFL to remove a Saints fan from a Saints game five years ago.

Really, how hard could it be to ensure that no game officials have any obvious biases or prejudices involving the teams in the games to which they’re assigned? If/when (when) gambling is legalized, the NFL had better iron out these irregularities or Congress will create an independent commission that will be responsible for doing it for them.