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Referee Jeff Triplette will retire from the NFL

Referee Jeff Triplette is set to retire from the field after a 22-year NFL officiating career, having called his final game in Saturday’s Wild Card Playoff game, according to a report by Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network. This is consistent with some of the discussion in officiating circles that  Football Zebras  was aware of, but could not confirm, entering Week 17.

Triplette joined the NFL in 1996 and worked as a back judge. He became a referee for the 1999 season, replacing the retired Jerry Markbreit. Ending with the Titans-Chiefs playoff game, he worked 11 postseason games, including 6 Wild Card Playoffs, 4 Divisional Playoffs, as well as the 2007 AFC Conference Championship.  Triplette served as the alternate referee for Super Bowl XLI.  He also was the referee for the 2010 Pro Bowl.

In his first season as a NFL referee, Triplette was involved in an accident that tested his faith and resolve. On Dec. 19, 1999, Triplette called a false start penalty and threw his flag. The flag accidentally hit Orlando Brown of the Cleveland Browns damaging his eyesight. Triplette immediately apologized to Brown. A few moments later, after realized he was blinded, Brown became enraged, pushing Triplette to the ground. Triplette properly ejected Brown for contacting an official.

The Brown incident happened shortly before halftime. At the half, Triplette’s crew held their halftime meetings and allowed the new referee to collect his thoughts after the traumatic events. Triplette told Referee magazine in a later article that he spent halftime praying for Brown. A few years later, Brown and Triplette reconciled after Brown made a come back to pro ball.

Triplette is the  CEO of Arbiter Sports, a web service for assigning and handling service fees for officials of all sports to high school and college games. He has also served on the board of directors for the National Association of Sports Officials. He resigned as president of the NFL Referees Association in the middle of last season. As head of the union,  Triplette was a key negotiator during the 2012 labor dispute.

Prior to ArbiterSports, Triplette worked in the insurance and risk-management sector for many years.

On the field, there is no ignoring that Triplette was a lightning rod of controversy. Of note, after a controversial replay decision by Triplette in a 2013 Bengals regular season game, he was assigned to a Bengals Wild Card game, a controversy that the league office would tend to avoid when making assignments. In light of the controversy, Dean Blandino, who was the vice president of officiating, took the unusual step to be present in the replay booth to monitor the game and consult or intervene if necessary. This was seen as a precursor to officiating executives being involved in the replay process, and ultimately centralizing the replay operation at league headquarters.

Triplette has served his country in the United States Army. He  is a retired U.S. Army National Guard and Reserve colonel with the North Carolina Army National Guard. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for service to his country in the first Persian Gulf War.

This now means a new official will be promoted to referee this offseason, with several candidates in the pipeline.

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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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3 thoughts on “Referee Jeff Triplette will retire from the NFL

  1. So the NFL had finally, at long last, decided that one of their so-called referees has screwed up his last game and needs to “retire”. Finally.

    I’m not surprised it took this long as the NFL has shown time and again it does not care about the quality of the game and especially the quality of the officiating of the game. Case in point was the Chiefs Titans WC game. The announcers were praising the game as “one for the ages” when in fact, the game pretty much stank. The Titans stank the entire first half, the Chiefs the entire second half. THAT is what passes for a “classic” playoff game?

    But it was the officiating, not the less than playoff-caliber play, that stood out. If Triplette and his crew were “the best of the best” that the NFL could assign to officiate a playoff game, then what does that say about the NFL, how it is managed, and the quality of the officials?

    Like so many times before the Chiefs Titans game, Triplette and his crew decided the outcome of the game. The officials, and not the players or coaches, were the ultimate deciding factor. This happens week after week in the NFL, and year after year. Watch ANY other professional sport and you seldom see an official’s call (or non-call) directly and obviously decide who wins and loses the game. It happens, but nothing to the level or the number of times you see it happen in the NFL. Triplette and his crew being just the most obvious examples of a plague of bad officiating that haunts the NFL, and one the NFL refuses to do anything about.

    If you are a Chiefs fan, you have multiple legitimate complaints about Triplette and his crew deciding the game in the Titans favor (and no, the bad calls did not “balance themselves out” as many would cynically claim). There is the obvious ruling that a QB standing still in the pocket and not in any way trying to run the ball forward, somehow, inexplicably, had had his “forward progress stopped”, a phantom call that negated an obvious fumble by the QB which was recovered by the Chiefs. Yes, make no mistake, this single terrible, inexcusable call by the officials, right there, decided who would win that game. Triplette of course, after the game, could not explain his (wrongly) blowing the whistle and the play dead, because it defies all logic as to how the game is played and how “forward progress” is determined. It’s a mind shatteringly dumb call and even dumber “explanation” of the dumb call on the field.

    Of course, if you’re a Chiefs fan, you also know your team totally blew that game and basically disappeared after Kelce went out of the game with a concussion. Which brings me to the other bad and questionable calls that Triplette and his crew made (or didn’t make) that impacted who won and who lost that playoff game.

    On Kelce’s hit to the head, how is this not a deliberate helmet-to-helmet blow to a defenseless receiver? How is that not at least a 15-yard penalty on the field and a possible ejection from the game for an obvious dirty hit? Why should a coach (and I am not saying the Titans coaches did this) not tell a defensive player “Kelce is killing us, if we don’t put him out of the game we are toast, take him out”? Why not do it? And that is exactly what the Titan defensive player did. No penalty, no anything. Thanks to the NFL allowing this kind of thing to happen, every week, and only on occasion (and not consistently at all) do the NFL officials call the 15-yard penalty and eject the player (thus sending the message to the teams that this kind of dangerous and deliberate hit will not be tolerated), the Chiefs lost their best offensive player for the game (and that’s not considering the long- range impact that it will have on Kelces career).

    Compare and contrast that hit to the head and what Triplette and his crew allowed (and most NFL officiating crews allow week after week), to how the NHL officials have been calling deliberate or even questionable hits to the head during play. The NHL officials do not tolerate these deliberate and questionable blows to the head, for any player (from Mason Crosby down to the lowliest fourth line winger). If a player hits another player in the head with a stick, an elbow, a shoulder, their fist, or their head, they call the penalty almost every time. As well they should, to prevent concussions and the players safety. Concussions were becoming out of hand and star players like Crosby were having their young careers threatened by unnecessary and vicious blows to the head. The NHL rightfully tried its best to put a stop to those head blows, and have largely succeeded. How? Through fair and consistent enforcement by the game officials. The teams know now that if one of their players takes a shot, deliberate or otherwise, to another players head, there is a very strong chance the team will receive a major penalty and the other team will receive a five-minute uninterrupted power play, plus they will have the offending player ejected from the game, plus that player may be suspended and fined by the NHL office. That’s a strong deterrent, and it works.

    Yet in the NFL, there lies Kelce, one of the two best tight ends in football, lying on the field limp and then staggering around trying to stand up with an obvious game ending (possibly career ending) concussion. And no penalty is called, none at all. The NFL is obviously OK with having its star players taken out of games, usually multiple games, because of these hits to the head, that it and its officiating crews refuse to control. The NHL, another violent sport played by huge men moving fast (and also carrying the equivalent of clubs in their hands) has found a way to at least try to prevent a lot of these concussions by minimizing the blows to the head, yet the NFL can’t? Baloney. The NFL does not care to try, does not have the quality officiating crews to put a stop to it, or both.

    And to make the entire episode even worse, Kelce appears to fumble the ball on the hit, and the officials miss that too!

    Back to the game and Triplette, then we have the spectacle of the crew not knowing where to spot the ball on the field. Remember that? After a play had ended, the officials seemed lost as to where to mark the ball. I believe they had to review the play to figure out where to spot it? Well at least that screw up they managed to fix, causing little harm to either team, but it is unforgivable. Yet it happens all the time.

    Then we have the miracle pass to himself that Mariotta scored on. No problem with anything on that play but was it reviewed? Because on the replays shown on TV, it appears he is very close to being over the line of scrimmage when he throws the ball. This was another turning point in the game, and week after week we see what appear to be obvious catches that the officials are not afraid to micro-review over and over again, for many minutes, to then get wrong and reverse TD’s and take points off the board. Why not micro-review whether Mariotta was over the line? Watching the game, I could barely tell if the play received anything more than a cursory glance by the review crew (because it was a scoring play). Fine, maybe to the officials on the field and the review officials, it was not even close. But from multiple angles shown to the viewers on TV, it appeared to be very close. Why not take the time to closely review this, like the league appears to be perfectly comfortable doing when a receiver catches the ball? It’s just crazy, capricious, inconsistent, and random – the entire review process – and it harms the game. Either carefully review all controversial and close plays, or none of them. Don’t micro manage what is and isn’t “a catch” but not whether a QB is or is not over the line when he throws the ball on a scoring play.

    OK, let’s not talk about the off-setting penalty that cost the Chiefs a first down when the Titan special teams player ran into the punter……..another turning point……let’s give Triplette’s crew the benefit of the doubt (though they don’t deserve it) that the Chiefs did commit a penalty before the punter was run into……

    And then there was the fumble by Mariotta on the two-point play that was blown dead before Mariotta was tackled to the ground. This is a judgement call by the official as to whether Mariotta was in the grasp of the Chiefs defender and thus, even though Mariotta was still spinning around and could have broken free of the defender, the official blew the play dead just before Mariotta fumbles. Another turning point in the game, and once again, it went against the Chiefs. But at least this one you could (almost) understand why the official would blow the whistle on the play. Almost.

    I believe it is going to take a head coach with the backbone to finally call the league out on these constant game-deciding bad calls (and non-calls). Officiating screw ups that cost them and their team a win. These coaches and players and teams work their butts off all year to get to the playoffs, then get bounced out on not one but several bad calls by the clueless and overmatched pitiful NFL officiating crews. It’s just terrible. Yet they endure it year after year.

    More than just speaking to reporters, it is going to take a coach much more than that to put a stop to this. Reid would not do so for fear of being fined, like most coaches do after the game is over. Even though they know, level of play aside, the NFL officials just handed a playoff win to the other team.

    No, it is going to take a coach, in the game situation like Reid found himself in with the Chiefs (but it could be any coach, and any team) to yank his team off the field of play and forfeit the game to get this to the level of outrage where (maybe) the league will finally fire these referees and hire full-time, paid, professional, in-shape, well-trained, constantly-educated, young, and excellent officials. Or maybe the coach simply refuses to allow the team to come out of the locker room at the end of the half until the NFL does something like toss Triplette off the crew and insert a substitute official, and promote the next highest official on the field to take Triplettes place. To finish the game. Yes, this is obvious brinkmanship, and damaging to the game, the fans, and the league. But what else can be done?

    Well, there is one more thing that can be done, the NFL fans can simply walk away from this travesty of a game, and not come back. And in case the NFL hasn’t noticed by looking over their mountain of cash, that is exactly what is happening, right now. And it is only going to accelerate as more star players have their seasons and careers ended or shortened by these out of control injuries, especially the preventable blows to the head. As more bad officiating decides the outcomes of more games. As more lousy teams (the NFL is now reduced to having, maybe, 8 good teams out of 32) play each other in mistake-filled bore-a-thons. Or get crushed in blow out losses to the 8 good teams.

    The 2017 season and the playoffs in early 2018, have been a joke. Lousy, boring games most notable for the number of star players injured and not playing, with second, third, and even fourth team players having to fill in on most teams, at multiple positions. Too many commercials, too many unnecessary and game-disrupting penalties and reviews. Too much hype and not enough delivery on the field. Owners moving teams to new cities, to play in stadiums filled to 25% capacity. Too much “was it a catch” review nonsense. Too many games decided by the officials and not the players and coaches. Too many bad teams, not enough good teams.

    Giving Triplette and his crew a playoff assignment and then, predictably, when he and his crew screw up the game and ultimately decide who wins and who loses, then forcing him to retire, to take the fall for a league that simply does not care about the quality of the game it puts before the fans, that is how the NFL really does business. No tears lost for Triplette, he deserves all of the ridicule and scorn heaped upon him. But it is the NFL, or at least the 31 team owners (the Packers can stay) should resign.

    Goodbye Jeff Triplette. The league will go on without you, right down the toilet where it has been heading.

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