Ethan Sturm | Rules of the Game
Adventures in refereeing
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 01:09
We are two weeks into the NFL season, and the replacement referee experiment has already been a disaster. Now, to clarify, I’ve been defending the referees left and right. I have a lot of experience officiating sports, and when you have to make a sudden jump to a higher level of play, going from calling 60 mph fastballs in a loose little league strike zone to 85 mph fastballs in a tight big league zone, it’s jarring. And remember, these guys didn’t make the jump from Div. I college football — the second highest level of competition in the land — to the pros; they all came from semi−pro leagues.
They also aren’t at fault for the simple fact that they shouldn’t be in this situation to begin with. It’s truly inconceivable that the nation’s biggest sports cash cow is willing to degrade its quality of play over a few million dollars and two or three extra referee crews.
The league wants the referees to become full−time employees, even though former Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira, the guru of all things NFL officials and my favorite addition to the Fox Football Staff ever, says it will make no perceptible difference.
Even the NFL Players Association has complained. And remember what happened the last time the NFL and the NFLPA bickered? Yep, that’s right, we almost lost a football season.
But while I don’t blame the replacement referees for being in this situation or for their judgment calls on the field, I can and will blame them for simply not knowing the rules. For referees at any level, professional or not, that is simply inexcusable, and they should be given plenty of slack until they start getting it right consistently. Here are a few of my favorite anecdotes from the first couple of weeks:
On a Giants’ punt return early in their Week 1 loss to the Cowboys, a Giants player was flagged for a personal foul, clipping penalty. But clipping specifically involves a block at waist level or lower, which this block wasn’t anywhere close to. What should have been a ten−yard illegal block in the back penalty was instead fifteen yards for no apparent reason.
Speaking of that Giants game, Jim Core was in charge of the proceedings, and the poor guy couldn’t seem to figure out the proper way to signal a false start.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, he still hadn’t figured it out five days later on Monday night when he refereed the Raiders’ game against the Chargers. Don’t you think someone would have said, “Hey Jimmy, you’re doing it wrong,” at some point?
Perhaps the most egregious error came in the Seahawks/Cardinals game, where a rulings error almost cost the Cardinals their win. With less than a minute left, wide receiver Doug Baldwin went down with an injury after an incomplete pass.
A timeout should have been taken away, but it wasn’t, and the Seahawks got to use a “fourth” timeout after running the ball, and when the Cardinals complained, the referees ruled that the injury rule didn’t apply because the clock was stopped. That makes sense to me, but unfortunately it’s not how the rule works. The NFL was just lucky the Cardinals won anyway.
So what’s there to do? Well, it looks like, for now, we’ll just have to grin and bear it. We can boycott football on Sundays, but that won’t hurt anything but our own enjoyment. I would know; my one−man boycott of the college title game didn’t accomplish anything — though I can take credit for the new playoff system, right?
We can hope things will get better, but I think we’re better off accepting that something is going to need to go very wrong before it gets better.
Ethan Sturm is a senior majoring in biopsychology. He can be reached at Ethan.Sturm@tufts.edu or on Twitter @esturm90.