Questionable officiating decisions have from time to time impacted the outcomes of games. Questionable officiating decisions also has impacted the outcomes of the legal betting line. With legalized sports wagering now spreading throughout the country, it’s more important than ever that the latter outcome be avoided.
It happened on Thursday, with Washington — an underdog in the range of seven to 7.5 points — trailing Dallas by 11 and driving for a score. Facing third and three from the Cowboys’ 13, quarterback Colt McCoy threw a pass to tight end Jordan Reed. He absorbed a vicious blow to the head from Cowboys safety Xavier Woods. It’s the kind of hit that has been flagged many times before, a byproduct of a sensitivity to head injuries that emerged in 2010.
Often, officials have penalized players for far less egregious hits, erring on the side of protecting players. The league has evolved away from using the term “erring,” since it implies a mistake. Regardless, the officials are supposed to be looking closely for these kinds of hits.
In this case, the officials flat-out missed it.
Washington settled for a field goal, an eight-point deficit, and an onside kick that failed. A foul would have given Washington a first and goal from the 6, and a fresh set of chances to score a touchdown that, in turn, would have allowed the road team to cover. The fact that the foul wasn’t called surely rankled those who risked their money on Washington plus the points.
It’s a tangible example of the challenge the NFL faces when it comes to legalized sports betting. Balanced against all the money the league and its owners will make in the coming years is the risk of tough questions being asked when blown calls result in millions of dollars changing hands. If enough tough questions are asked, changes will be imposed on the league by outside forces. Which means that the best play for the league will be to make the changes necessary to avoid situations like this.
When it comes to the rule regarding hits on defenseless receivers, the simplest solution becomes making the play subject to automatic replay review. Alternatively, the league office could assume the authority to mandate that the flag being thrown via the pipeline to the referee. Ideally, the league would embrace the concept of adding to the crew a video official, who would be responsible for giving the on-field officials real-time assistance in all aspects of calling a game, in the hopes of always getting it right.
Especially when the outcome of the game and/or the outcome of the bet is hinging on the decision. And especially when the tin-foil hat crowd will be looking for any and every reason to suggest that the fix is in, even though it never, ever is.