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Punishments for a ‘fast public-relations fix’ do not improve officiating


Commentary by Mark Schultz

I have had a lot of thoughts going through my mind as the football season nears the halfway point. Fan reaction to tough judgement calls or admitted errors on various message boards — including our forum, Behind the Football Stripes — have summoned overheated calls for the termination of individual officials to the termination of vice president for officiating, Dean Blandino. The NFL has responded by keeping an official home for a weekend and switching an official off of a national TV game after a controversial call. While it may serve as an emotional pacifier to tantrum-throwing fans, it does not improve officiating.

Former NFL referee Scott Green opined in USA Today that the NFL is thinking of public relations first and professional development second when issuing consequences to NFL officials. Green was at the forefront with interactions between the league office and the officials in his capacity as the president of the National Football League Referees’ Association, a position he stepped down from upon his retirement in 2013. Green said,

The League is predictably handling the issue no differently than the others that characterize Commissioner Roger Goodell’s regime: arbitrary punishment of an individual for a fast public relations fix. It’s a reactive approach that may give some short-term satisfaction to one team’s fans, but it doesn’t address improvement.

Green has a point. If an official is docked a game’s pay or if he or she sits at home over the weekend getting their proverbial nose rubbed in the error, how does that make a better official? The official knew to watch the clock or apply the proper replay rules, but instead they messed up. Do you think a suspension will cause them to say, “Boy, I sure learned my lesson. I won’t do that again”? The official already knows they made an error. They already feel like they let the game, their boss and their fellow officials down. Fans don’t believe it but it is true — no one feels worse about making a mistake than the officials.

Instead of a suspension hanging over an official, I agree with Green; the NFL should put more energy into training individual officials and address and an official’s deficiency through positive education instead of punishment. Blandino’s office should pick the official up, dust them off, and work with them to improve. If an official doesn’t show progress, or if their skills start to erode below acceptable standards, the NFL can then make a change.

All a game fine or suspension does is throw a bone to the fans and make them think the NFL is being proactive. In the meantime, morale plummets and officials don’t improve.

Green’s editorial provided another interesting nugget. Green criticized Dean Blandino for passing judgement on NFL officials without having any officiating experience. This is a marked contrast to a mere three seasons ago when Blandino was hired and an official commented to Football Zebras, “Dean has grown up in officiating [in a replay capacity]. He has earned the respect of most of the officials. He is a fair guy, and I am optimistic he will do a great job in the position.”

Between Green’s commentary and public consequences given to the officials, it seems like morale is low in the officiating department. The pressure is on Blandino and commissioner Roger Goodell to rally the zebras and inspire them to excellence.  

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Mark Schultz
Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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8 thoughts on “Punishments for a ‘fast public-relations fix’ do not improve officiating

  1. Judging by who has been punished by the league this season, it doesn’t look like officials are being publicly punished for judgement calls, but only for obvious misapplication of objective rules.

    If, say, an official threw a flag for unnecessary roughness on a close call, and the league office deemed the roughness necessary and suspended the official, Green would have a better point. But the punishments handed down are for clear-cut calls (like the clock not starting during a play) that aren’t matters of interpretation.

    The part of Green’s proposal that I do like is that he proposes Blandino and the league office should be fixing more bad calls in real time. As it stands, the league office is fixing some “non-reviewable” calls, and Green wants to expand and formalize that piece. I’d take it a step further. The rules about what is or is not reviewable should be loosened for the officials on the field, so the on-field guys can fix more calls without the league office getting involved.

    I’m for anything that gets a higher percentage of plays called correctly. I think disciplining officials helps, but where you’re going to fix the most mistakes is by allowing more things to be fixed in replay.

    Additionally, Green says Blandino is not an official because he came up through the replay official system rather than as an on-field official. Are replay officials graded the same way as on-field officials in terms of marks against them being tallied and used to affect which replay official works which playoff game?

    Finally, how does replay work with the downgrade system? If a blown call is overturned in replay, does the official who blew the call get a downgrade that affects playoff assignments?

  2. true story. A number of years ago there was a fumble in a game, the official was in position, but could not see the play clearly, but had to make a call. I was reversed on review and he was downgraded. He appealed and stated that he could not see the ball, it didn’t matter, he was wrong. So then he stated, what would have happened if I was out of position, but got the cake correct? He was told that he would be downgraded for being out of position

  3. If that’s how it works, that’s dumb and worth changing. A key idea in the replay rules should be that officiating mistakes should not affect the game. BY DEFINITION, bad calls overturned in replay cannot affect the game because they were fixed.

    These guys are human. The league should be encouraging them to correct mistakes. Uncorrected mistakes are the only ones that should have downgrades attached.

  4. Aw-w-w-w, the officials don’t like to be held accountable….too bad. You’re making $100,000.00 a year or more! No excuses!

  5. Just got done watching Dallas vs Eagles. I could care less who won, but that has to be the worse 4th quarter officiating I can remember. Ed Hochuli and his crew really sucked ! Just loved when they where all looking at each other after the fumble Haha What a joke ,Ed knew the replay would bale them out. After that weak showing the whole crew needs to be fined or take the next week off. If you say that the officials are the ones that really feel bad about their bad games then lets hope that Big Ed Hochuli will do the right thing and watch more tape and get some balls and overturn at least a few of the bad calls his crew is calling. If not Ed Hochuli needs to go back to calling High School games.

  6. Cures for poor and biased officiating. Officiating in the NFL is so poor and seemingly biased it is starting to look like the officials got their training from the WWE. I would institute the following procedures to make officials accountable and not just immune to any penalties what ever.
    1. Replace Dean Blandino get someone who is not in bed with the NFL front office and will hold officials accountable for poor/biased calls.
    2. Make an ethics program an integral part of the officials training and evaluate them on that during each game. Without this program they will continue the calls they have been making.
    3. Make the Officials permanent not a part time job with real reviews of how well they officiated their game.
    4. Institute a rule of fair and consistent calls because it appears that now they just call on a whim or in line with what side of the bed they got up on that morning or how they feel about the teams they are calling.
    5. Get the NFL head office out of the game as it appears they are helping the Officials call the game a certain way. That makes it look like they have anointed the teams ahead of time.
    6. Really close games should have every play reviewed as on these games it is easy to call in favor of the winning team.
    7. Put professional back into the Officiating system. DO that by getting rid of Officials who can not make consistent game to game calls and who have a habit of making and missing calls.
    8. Some kind of penalty can be called on every play that is why, in many cases, the games do not seem to be called evenly as the Officials seem to be cherry picking calls in favor of one team or another.
    Finally I double dog dare any Official to call me wrong in my evaluation.
    How and why games are called the way they are is speculation on my part, however, in retrospect a case can be made for all my points above.

  7. Yeah, if we keep up these knee jerk reactions and don’t take into account context, we’ll end up treating officials like teachers.

  8. “Pacify tantrum throwing fans?” There is the arrogance that defines today’s officiating. Wouldn’t want to pacify the fans would we? Instead, let’s pacify the arrogant officials which will only make matters worse with the fans. Officiating grades and their mistakes, (including the impact had on the game), should be made as public as player, coach, and team stats. Transparency, integrity and accountability are needed here; not referencing paying customers as being babies who need pacifying. It is the officials, their supervisors, and their apologists that are acting like babies.

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