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Saints owner calls for changes in officiating

In a statement released after the most devastating loss in New Orleans Saints history, owner Gayle Benson said she will “aggressively pursue changes in NFL policies to ensure no team and fan base is ever put in a similar position again.”

Benson is speaking about the pass interference no-call at the end of the game that impacted the Saints strategy to win in regulation.

Benson’s addressed the play and her intentions in her statement:

No team should ever be denied the opportunity to reach the title game (or simply win a game) based on the actions, or inactions, of those charged with creating a fair and equitable playing field. As is clear to all who watched the game, it is undeniable that our team and fans were unfairly deprived of that opportunity yesterday. I have been in touch with the NFL regarding yesterday’s events and will aggressively pursue changes in NFL policies to ensure no team and fan base is ever put in a similar position again. It is a disservice to our coaches, players, employees and, most importantly, the fans who make our game possible. The NFL must always commit to providing the most basic of expectations — fairness and integrity.

Benson didn’t specifically mention a call or an official, but we don’t have to read too far between the lines.

The “fairness and integrity” sentence could be inflammatory as one could interpret her calling an official’s honesty into question, but I don’t expect the league to issue a fine.

What is interesting about this statement is that Saints coach Sean Payton is a member of the Competition Committee. I am sure when they meet next month, the committee will let him have the floor for a long time and let him offer plenty of options with the NFC Championship game in mind.

The committee has looked at penalty reviews in the past, and has so far resisted the push to add them to the rules (2018, 2017, 2016, 2015). I fully expect the NFL to consider making pass interference a reviewable judgement call — whether it comes from the committee or from a team proposal — when the owners consider rule changes for 2019, and that change will be strongly supported by Benson and Payton.

Photo: Michael C. Hebert/New Orleans Saints

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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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13 thoughts on “Saints owner calls for changes in officiating

  1. “The NFL must always commit to providing the most basic of expectations — fairness and integrity.” … So, tell me, Ms. Benson, where exactly did the NFL fall short in integrity? Are you accusing anyone connected with the league of being on the take? And where did it fall short in fairness? Just because the Saints didn’t get a flag they should have gotten, that doesn’t mean the NFL is unfair. Lots of teams get bad calls. Just exactly what proposals do you have in mind?

  2. The last thing the NFL needs is another way to slow down the game with challenges. Are we going to support challenging every PI call? When do you start challenging holding on the OL? At what point does each team need an attorney on the sideline.

    The real issue is competence of the officials.

    Hugo wasn’t the only weak link. Thank goodness he was fired. But … There are literally dozens of weak officials. Some got too old. Some were hired for the wrong reasons. Some were hired as a freaking stunt (think yogurt commercial!).

    How to fix – start over! Keep the good officials and replace the weak ones. Keep the crews together all year through the Super Bowl. I guarantee a crew that worked together and had trust fixes that error Sunday night.

    Or, keep it the way it is and let the integrity of the league be called into question.

  3. @Ken – I really can’t blame the owner for being upset.

    But, yes, in life as in football – these things happen.

    I still can’t for the life of me understand why Vinovich did not gather together his officials and get the call right. A truly awful job on his part. And, then he bald face lies after the game, claiming he did not see the play. And, that is what happens when the members of the crew don’t know each other well. You wouldn’t need all star crews if a good portion of the NFL officials were not weak officials.

    But, hey Roger Goodell … keep ruining the NFL. As long as the owners make money this year … why worry about next year.

  4. Rather than widening the scope of challenges, why not have the replay assistant notify the ref of suspect calls or non-calls throughout the entire game? Maybe only in the playoffs.

  5. Knowledge is Good, your idea to keep crews together works in theory, but there are practical limitations. What about first year officials or very weak ones? If Sarah Thomas’s crew graded out the best, should she work the Super Bowl? What about a strong official assigned to a weak crew because NFL wants some semblance of balance during the regular season? Should a Tier 1 BJ not receive an assignment because the rest of his crew was mostly Tier 3 and a smattering or Tier 2? What really needs to happen is the NFL needs to keep together, as much as possible, regular season pairings (R/U, HL/SJ, LJ/FJ) and try to have a BJ from the crew of either FJ or SJ. If an official is playoff caliber then they should be eligible even if a rookie. Also, every playoff caliber official should be eligible for CC and Super Bowl. No longer is just being good enough to work a Wild Card the proper standard. If the NFL does not want an official working the Super Bowl, that official should be out of a job.

  6. @Michael – there are only 17 crews. That is @ 120 officials.

    Do you believe that there are less than 120 excellent officials available in the US at this time?

    Ask yourself this question – Why is the NFL carrying weak officials? Every crew should have 7 awesome officials.

  7. I’m almost 50. I’ve been watching pro football most of my life. As a fan I’d be fine with a game going 5-10-15 minutes longer if they can get these most obvious calls/missed calls correct.

    I just don’t think the NLF cares. I think they will make some slight changes to appease a few fans but in the end they know the human element adds to the publicity. People will be talking about this forever and as long as they don’t lose too many viewers they stay in the public eye and keep making money.

    Yes, mistakes will always be made…but when you have the power to correct the most obvious ones and don’t it must be a deliberate thing.

  8. Knowledge is Good, yes I believe there should be 120 officials all of whom are capable of working the Super Bowl. I personally believe that the NFL is wrong when consistently grading in Tier 2 (good enough to merit an on field assignment in Wild Card or Divisional Round) is sufficient to maintain employment. If the NFL does not want an official assigned to a game for reasons other than appearance of bias (for example, Jerome Boger or Byron Boston working their sons’ games when they were in the NFL) that official should not be working in the NFL. The problem is that until you get to the point that all officials are of that level, you will have officials who might generally be Tier 2 with the occasional Tier 1 (but never Tier 3). Also, rookie officials may have a strong year, but one year is not enough to see how good an official actually is. If the official happens to have a year where he/she (because I would not rule out hiring a woman if she is one of the top 120 officials) only gets lay-ups (to use Gene Steratore’s line from Sunday night), you can’t accurately measure the official. Assigning by crew poses the problem that you will have weak/inaccurately graded officials in a key game when better officials are sitting at home because they were the bright spot on an otherwise weak crew.

  9. They need stricter performance criteria. Problem is unions will protect their members, as that is their job. When the next CBA is due, performance criteria needs to be changed so that the officials are held to standards that improve themselves instead of staying the status quo.

  10. NFL officials are often times not full-time. It’s high time the NFL changes that. A lot of these guys are lawyers, bankers, whatever part of the week and then step on the field Sundays to ref. Make them full-time, make them study film, keep physically fit, etc.

  11. It has nothing to do with being full time.

    Just hire the best.

    There are dozens of officials in the college ranks who are better than the median NFL official … but they might not meet a certain “criteria”.

  12. I agree with the suggestion of one or more (preferable more) “virtual” officials, sitting up the the box watching video feeds in real time and participating in making calls along with the officials on the fields. They can get a button that lights up a yellow light on the field or something that serves as their yellow flag, and they can confer with the crew on the field via radio. Probably one of the virtual officials should be the head of the virtual crew and chosen to work well with the head umpire on the field. Not all of the officiating eyes need to be down on the field–the video feeds give a pretty good view of the action as well–sometimes better.

  13. 1. That just “pass interference”. It was BLATANT, pass interference.

    2. It was helmet to helmet. Player safety? Give me an effing break.

    3. It was an unnecessary hit on a defenseless receiver. Personal Foul.

    4. It was faceguarding.

    All four are penalties. None was called. Worst. NonCall. Of. All. Time.

    And I say that as a lifelong Rams fan going back to the days of Roman Gabriel and Jack Snow.

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