Generally speaking, I tend to give sports officials some leeway, perhaps especially in the NFL. The game is fast, it’s complicated, and only seven officials get to watch 22 players on a field that measures 120 yards long (with end zones) by 53 yards wide. Even with replay in the best of conditions, the most experienced officials will blow a call or two in a game. However, I’ve watched NFL games for more than 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like what took place in Seattle last night. I watched from midway through the third quarter to the jaw-dropping finale, and I’ve never seen a worse-called game in my life at any level of football competition. From phantom pass interference calls to egregious PI non-calls, a normal out-of-pocket hit on a QB that drew a roughing penalty that negated an interception, to this final play — where a defender intercepted a pass and landed with both feet in the end zone but the offensive receiver was awarded the TD because he had one hand on the ball — the replacement officials embarrassed the NFL and put a big, fat asterisk on the whole season:
What happened to the best brand in sports? Kevin Seifert rips the league for its labor strategy at ESPN:
Can we now, in unison and without debate, agree that the NFL’s plan to replace its locked-out officials has failed spectacularly and embarrassingly, undermining the credibility of the league and — after two months of nervous anticipation — directly impacting the outcome of a game?
That’s the only possible reaction after watching the final play of the Seattle Seahawks’ 14-12 victory Monday night over the Green Bay Packers. I guess you can debate all the calls and potential mistakes that happened earlier in the game, from wildly inconsistent pass interference judgments to a failure to remove a “K” ball from the field on the Packers’ failed two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. But there is no question that Monday night’s crew of replacement officials erred repeatedly on the play in question and then lost control of the teams in one of the most chaotic scenes in recent NFL history.
The NFL’s attempt to patch together a competent group of officials was destined to fail the moment that Division I college officials either declined or were prevented from joining the effort. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the NFL’s deep and nuanced rule book, not to mention the speed of the professional game, knew that recruiting low-level college officials, Arena League castoffs and Lingerie League part-timers was destined to fail at the highest level of the game.
That’s not to say that the officials on the field aren’t trying to do their best; they clearly are putting forth a valiant effort in each game. However, they don’t know the NFL rules, both in nuanced and in embarrassingly obvious ways. Last night, after the controversial TD call, the officials ran off the field — unaware that the NFL requires a conversion attempt for all TDs in regular time, regardless of whether the clock has expired or not. They aren’t qualified to call games at this level, and their experience at Division II and III has left them woefully unprepared for the speed of the professional game. Brit Hume put it best last night:
Replacement refs doing the best they can. That's the problem. Sort of like President Obama.
— Brit Hume (@brithume) September 25, 2012
Whatever Roger Goodell thinks he’s doing with his lockout of the professional officials, that strategy is over. He gambled that anyone could call these games, and this weekend he lost. Not only did the officials change the outcome of this game, they probably did the same in Baltimore yesterday with a series of questionable penalty calls and almost certainly blowing the field goal call on the last play of that game as well. The NFL has a game this Thursday. Either they need to get the regular officials back on the field, or they need to start postponing these games until they do, because to saddle teams with regular-season records based on this officiating is a travesty, and it’s turning the NFL into a joke.
Note to Goodell: When you have a panel that consists of men who would normally be cheerleading the league — and whose livelihood depends on its success — go on national TV and talk about how the results lack any integrity whatsoever, you are in danger of killing your brand.
Update: The football field is 53 yards wide, not 17; was thinking 53 feet, for some reason. Thanks to Steve Eggleston for the correction.