One of the defining characteristics of this NFL season has been late-game officiating controversies. There was the tumultuous ending to the Patriots-Bills game, the weird anti-Cam Newton grandstanding by Ed Hochuli, the phantom offensive pass interference call that allowed the Broncos to give the Patriots their first defeat, the Ravens losing on a blown call, Seattle getting away with one against Detroit, some bad clock watching in a Chargers-Steelers game, the controversial Aaron Rodgers facemask call, and plenty more. This is before you even touch the continued uncertainty over what a catch is and a suspicious series of headset malfunctions. Just about everyone is pissed off and there seems to be a clear problem without an easy solution.
In the Week 12 officiating video published yesterday, NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino said:
There is a perception now that officiating is not very good at the moment, but the reality is that the officiating is very good.
Blandino then admitted that there had been mistakes in high-profile situations, which he says are at the root of the current dissatisfaction with NFL officiating. This address came the day after Roger Goodell called for the NFL to review how officials do their jobs:
“When we talk about integrity of the game, [bad officiating] is one thing that truly affects the integrity of the game,” Goodell said at the end of a one-day owners’ meeting. “We strive for perfection. We strive for consistency.
“We’re not going to always get that, but we’re always going to continue to try to get that. Our commitment is to do everything reasonable to make sure that we improve officiating. I’m asking the competition committee to look at various aspects of our officiating to see what we can do to improve it.”
Blandino himself has been on the record about the need to simplify the rulebook, which seems like the starting point for a reasonable solution. He’s right that this year hasn’t featured an aberrant amount of mistakes but rather, a series of high profile ones. This has caused an uproar at NFL officiating in general, which, while perhaps misplaced, is on the mark about the need for reforms.
Referees make bad calls all the time, and that can’t be legislated out of the game. But the incredible importance of late-game calls exposes the problems with the complicated rulebook, as well as the need for simpler, clearer procedures. That seems obvious, but exactly how they get there without changing the way the game is played is a much more difficult matter.
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