The NFL knows that it will never get every call right. With sports betting now available for any state that wants to adopt it, the NFL soon will have to try harder.
Both reality and perception will be important in this regard, with a compelling need to eradicate mistakes by officials and an even more compelling need to create the impression that the NFL is doing everything possible to eradicate mistakes by officials. For starters, the NFL will need full-time officials, across the board.
The process toward employing officials on a full-time basis already has begun. Eventually, all will need to be full-time employees, given the reality that for any mistake made by a part-time official, the argument will be, “A full-time official wouldn’t have made that mistake.”
And while there’s a practical limit to the number of calls that will be gotten right, it must seem to the neutral observer that the league is trying. Having a full complement of full-time officials cries out, “We’re trying as hard as we can.”
That may not be enough. To the extent that mistakes can be rectified via expanded replay review, the league will have to be willing to consider doing it. And the league also should seriously consider something I’ve suggested for several years now — the use of a video official who is part of the crew, who monitors the action away from the field via the various camera angles, and who communicates directly to the referee when the video reveals that a mistake is about to be made by the on-field crew, ensuring that the pre-replay call is as accurate as possible.
The league may argue that these enhancements justify the so-called “integrity fee” that all sports leagues hope to shake from the states that adopt sports wagering. The response should be that this isn’t about “integrity,” it’s about competence.
The NFL has tolerated something less that absolute competence and performance by employing part-time officials, many of whom otherwise have full-time jobs. The NFL has done that because, quite frankly, it’s far cheaper this way. The cheaper route won’t be an option when millions of dollars will be legally changing hands every week based on the outcome of games.
In the past, a bad beat caused by officials would from time to time create a ruckus, like when former NFL referee Scott Green made a mistake at the end of a Chargers-Steelers game in 2008. With legalized gambling, that ruckus quickly could become a full-blown inquisition. And if enough of those happen, Congress could make the NFL’s worst nightmare come to fruition by creating a federal agency that oversees all American professional sports.
So, no, this isn’t about integrity. This is about the NFL finally having a clear, pressing reason to do what it should have been doing all along: Striving to get every call right in every game, with no tolerance for the concept of human error.