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7 officiating observations for the 2019 season

Happy New Year! The 2019 regular season is over and before we enter into the playoffs, here are seven officiating observations that stood out for me this year.

1. Pass interference replay challenges are not a silver bullet

After a much publicized pass interference miss in last year’s NFC Championship game, the NFL passed a one-year experimental rule to review pass interference calls and non-calls.  The rule change did not produce controversy-free pass interference fixes. In fact, all it did was create more frustration.  

This rule change shows that making judgement calls is an inexact science and as long as humans interpret the rules, there will never be 100% consensus on a call.

2. Instant replay reverses a coin toss

The Cowboys Dak Prescott gave referee Walt Anderson a headache Week 15, when Prescott inexplicably told Anderson that Dallas would “kick” after winning the coin toss. After some confusion, Prescott said he wanted to “defer” but by rule, Anderson took Prescott’s first choice.   At some point during the first half, Al Riveron intervened from centralized replay and informed Anderson and both teams that Prescott’s “defer” option was the one they would go with.

It’s a philosophical choice. Do we skirt or out-and-out break the rules to make sure the common sense thing happens, or do we enforce the rules and make a stupid mistake have a consequence to the team who committed the stupid mistake?

I fear this decision opened a dangerous can of worms for the future.

3. Blakeman ejects a player for assault with a helmet

In the waning minutes of the Steelers-Browns Thursday night tilt, Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph had a disagreement of ideas that devolved into pushing and shoving. Garrett then proceeded to rip Rudolph’s helmet off and hit the Steelers quarterback over the head with it. This was one of the most shocking, violent actions witnessed in a NFL game. Referee Clete Blakeman promptly ejected Garrett and the league issued heavy fines and suspensions to several players and fined both franchises.

Officials can do all they can to try and keep a lid on things, but sometimes players take leave of their senses and all officials can do is to try to put the derailed game back on track.

4. Roughing the passer adjustments made

Last year, the NFL gave its officials a new interpretation on how to call roughing the passer, and the first few weeks caused huge controversy. What was perfectly legal in 2017, was a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down in 2018.

Eventually the defenders adjusted to the new rules and the NFL retained the rules for 2019. While there were a few controverisial roughing the passer calls this year (below), defenders have adjusted and roughing the passer wasn’t as controversial this year.

5. Alex Kemp with the announcement of the year

The New Orleans Saints center might not find the humor in it, but Alex Kemp used some dry humor to announce this blooper of a penalty. While we’ve seen many “everyone but the center” false start calls, Kemp’s is notable as he is the first (as far as we know) to actually call out the center for not snapping the ball.

6. Don’t challenge Shawn Hochuli to a game of memory

Sometimes there is yellow laundry all over the field and officials need help from their crewmates to make accurate annoucements.

But, kudos to Shawn Hochuli for sorting out multiple fouls efficiently and from memory!

7. Best wishes to retiring officials

Retiring officials sometimes leave their shoes on the field after their last game.

As of today, we know the umpire Jeff Rice, down judge Mike Spanier and line judge Byron Boston are retiring. Rice and Boston just completed their 25th season and Spanier completed his 21st.  

With the new collective bargaining agreement containing a retirement incentive, we may see more retirements in the offseason.

The regular season is over. Be sure to savor the 11 remaining playoff games!

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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 “7 officiating observations for the 2019 season

  1. Maybe this is not the time to discuss this, but I’ve read somewhere that during the coming off-season, the NFL Officiating Department could undergo a major overhaul. I don’t mean just Al Riveron, but a comprehensive review of replay, hiring and the developmental program, and so on. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that NFL officiating is the worst it’s ever been blah blah, and part of that is because the technology exists to prove the officials wrong. But there are some philosophies under the Art McNally regime that have disappeared, and it may be a good time to reconsider them. One minor case in point: I’ve watched games from the ’70s and ’80s on YouTube, and I’m surprised how fast an official gets to the spot at the end of the play. These days I see far too much strolling by wing officials who hug the sidelines. Seeing them hustle to the spot sends a better, albeit subliminal, message. Another philosophy: Does this foul really have a bearing on the outcome of the play? If not, don’t flag it. To me, McNally’s best points were integrity and good old-fashioned common sense. NFL officials need more of that kind of leadership, IMO.

  2. Technology has created a virtual microscope on the officials. While they were always graded by the NFL on every single play and every single decision, now we have the media and fans judging every single decision as well.
    I know Riveron praises the high accuracy of the officials, but even if the officials get the call right, let’s say conservatively, 99% of the time, that to me would be unacceptable. If my company created a product that 1% of the time would fail, our Cost of Poor Quality would be very high and we would be losing money. They need to strive for 1 in a million if they hope to remove that microscope.

  3. You missed the part about not hiring the best officials. Officials are Currently being hired for reasons other than merit.

    Everyone knows this to be true. But, apparently, it’s okay.

    Oh and when you put a grossly incompetent official in charge of the NY office … what message do you send?

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