During football season, the Commissioner isn’t the most important person in the league office. The most important person in the league office is the person who periodically provides important explanations and information about controversial calls and decisions.
Currently, that person is, well, no one.
When Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino served as the in-house officiating chiefs, both made regular efforts to discuss on various media platforms the difficult decisions that get made in real time. They did it extremely well, admitting mistakes when necessary (despite the oft-petty internal reaction from game officials who don’t like being held publicly accountable) and providing useful information that would then be used to help the media and, in turn, the audience better understand how it all works.
Currently, there’s no transparency. There’s no one who is made available to talk to radio or TV hosts. There’s no regular officiating video. It all stopped once it became apparent that former officiating chief Al Riveron wasn’t suited for that aspect of the job. It hasn’t started again now that Riveron is out and Walt Anderson is in.
As a result, media and fans are basically on their own when it comes to understanding these situations. Yes, it’s nice to hear from Blandino and Pereira. But they don’t work for the league anymore. It’s critical that the league identify, hire, and deploy someone who can and will explain the close calls, the controversial rulings. Who will admit errors when errors are made.
On Sunday alone, at least three significant issues emerged. First, the delay-of-game mechanics that allowed Baltimore to avoid a five-yard penalty that would have pushed it’s game-winning field goal try from 66 to 71 yards. Second, the non-call of an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver in crunch time of the Packers-49ers game. Third, the curious decision to allow Davante Adams, who absorbed that hit, to return to the game so quickly.
Without someone who could be mobilized quickly to explain these situations on public platforms, the impression is created that the league has buried its head in the sand, hopeful that silence will cause the conversation to move toward something else. The problem is that, in the absence of an explanation, those inclined to believe that the outcomes sometimes are rigged (they definitely are not) will have a tangible basis for believing that they are.
Consider this email we received this morning: “Should [have] been a delay of game. Lions get screwed again. Give me a damn break. There is no buffer damnit. The league screwed the lions yet Again. Just like they were protecting the 49ers last night against that sh-thole team from Green Bay. Lions always get screwed.”
While no amount of explanation could make that specific Lions fan feel better, any effort at transparency is better than, you know, none.
In this regard, a statement from the league issued to a reporter employed by the league with said reporter adding some more information leaked to him by the league and that props up the league’s position is not good enough. Someone needs to give a face and/or a voice to these decisions. Written words won’t cut it. To get the non-captive media and the fans to buy in, we need to see it and/or hear it.
The league generally needs to be spending a lot more time imagining the intersection between the explosion of legalized sports betting and the urgency not only to improve the accuracy of calls but also to create the impression that the league is doing everything it can to get all calls right. Having someone who can provide the important service of explaining these things persuasively and transparently would help, tremendously.
And, yes, it all comes down to dollars and cents. The league, as Blandino has said, doesn’t value the position. Currently, the league is getting exactly what it’s paying for. Which is, both as to cost and benefit, nothing at all.