The NFL has an officiating crisis.
Those aren’t just my words. Multiple people directly involved with the NFL, at the team level, have used that phrase in recent weeks. In recent days, the Monday night misadventures of Tony Corrente caused the discussion to reach the boiling point.
Sunday’s game between the Saints and Titans underscored the point, when the latest phantom roughing-the-passer penalty was called against New Orleans, nullifying an interception in the end zone. Tennessee retained possession, and Tennessee scored a touchdown that turned a late-second-quarter tie into a 13-6 halftime lead.
It had a huge impact on the game, obviously. It contributed to the Tennessee win, definitely. But we’re also becoming desensitized to these crappy roughing calls. Indeed, we’re bracing for them, like the ever-present possibility of a flag laying on the turf after a kick return goes the distance. We now look for the roughing call when a big defensive play happens after a throw made with players gathering around the quarterback.
Did someone hit him? Will there be a flag, even if that hit wasn’t really a foul? With one or more of those horse manure decisions every week, of course we’re waiting for more road apples to cascade from the back end of Mr. Ed. (Hochuli.)
But this item isn’t about the latest symptom. It’s about finding a cure. And one way to do it will be to make all officials full-time employees.
Yes, they’ll say it’s not needed. But these are the same people who said nine years ago during the lockout of the regular officials that the replacements would be just as good.
Full-time officials would be better than part-time officials. This morning, the part-time officials are settling into their other jobs, the things they do exclusively for more than half of the year and partially during football season. Every minute they spend on their primary job is one less minute devoted to their side hustle. And if that side hustle ever goes away, they still have their main gig.
Part-time officials don’t have the full layer of skin in the game that coaches and players do. Put simply, they’re not all in. And they’re not as focused on their craft as they could be.
Coaches and players are studying film today. Officials should be, too. They should be meeting throughout the week, like coaches and players do. They should be studying good calls and bad calls in the hopes of ensuring consistency, continuity, and accuracy.
There’s real value in the fear that comes from getting called out in the film room. That same value would apply to officials. Today, umpire Barry Anderson should have to explain himself among peers and supervisors for throwing a flag on the Saints when no flag should have been thrown. Through that discussion, others may become determined to avoid similar embarrassment.
Some would say that forcing part-time officials to choose between their main jobs and their Sunday night moonlights would quit officiating. Others would say (accurately) that if the NFL offers enough money — that if the league properly values these positions — they’ll choose officiating. They’ll aspire to become officials, in the same way that those who became head coaches spent years working toward positioning themselves to reach the top of the mountain.
The NFL would realize it, too. If it were willing to spend the money needed to make it happen. That’s the impediment. For as well as the NFL is doing, the NFL is cheap. Too cheap. Maddeningly cheap. Pennywise and pound moronic.
We’ll see if they figure it out before someone on the outside (like Congress) forces them to. Here’s the reality. It can’t get any worse. And, currently, it’s as bad as it’s been, in a long time.
Until something improves, our only choice is to factor the incompetence into our effort to enjoy the final product.