Officiating Under Fire

December 8, 2015

 I blame super slow instant replay for all of the moaning about sport officiating. Argument done.  I wish it was this easy to dismiss the squabbling about officiating. There has always been referee and umpire lambasting, but it has reached unprecedented levels of scrutiny. Not only do officials, refs, umpires and judges get publicly shamed and targeted, they are also getting caught up in physical skirmishes. I will never forget the time I was umpiring a Little League game and I had missed a call on the bases. I made the call based on what I saw at the time and was soon berated by both the Manager and the fans in an intimidating way, I was fifteen years old. I learned from my mistake, but I also learned that emotions can run deep even supposedly in a game for fun.

Let’s look at the possible reasons for the heightened and sometimes shrill judgments of sport officiating; Not enough training, not fulltime officials, rules are become more muddled and have too many interpretations, technology can see more than the naked eye, biased treatment for certain athletes.

Training is an obvious culprit, which is also the number one reason for any poor job performance.  You are only as good as what you know, what you practice and how often you get to utilize your skills. It takes years to become proficient at officiating at any level and when the wrong level of training gets thrown into a situation where they are not ready for, hence the chance for mistakes. How often do you hear the term, “rookie official” being utilized in a television broadcast? The commentators are setting up the viewers just in case wrong calls are made, they are establishing a scapegoat.

When it comes to football at the collegiate and professional level, you are getting officials that are part time employees who might be selling vacuum cleaners during the week. Nothing wrong with selling vacuums but it is better to be selling something that sucks than sucking at your blown calls in front eighty thousand people. Football is a so huge and full of big-time money and emotion, why they don’t have a dedicated full-time team of officials baffles me. A couple of beer commercials could pay for an entire team of fulltime officials for one weekend in the NFL. You would think that you would get more consistent officiating across the board with an experienced and well-trained staff.

The rule books for any of the professional sports contain pages of new rules and interpretations.   The problem with this is that the officials might know the rules, but not everybody is on the same page. One year you touch another athlete in a certain way, next year you can’t even breathe on him. The NFL is really going down some slippery slopes with the interpretations of pass interference, holding, and tackling. The games are getting so muddled with flags being thrown from everybody, refs, coaches and second guessing coming from the replay booths, announcers and experts, it is sometimes unwatchable. I don’t know where the NFL is going with their rulings but obviously appears that rules need simplifying instead of trying to regulate all modes of contact.   This goes as well for basketball, because more than any other sport I view, the calls are inconsistent from play to play.

Of course, we have what I see as the elephant in the room, technology is better than the human eye. Officials can only see so much at full speed; therefore, we have the games being constantly slowed down to snail pace to review the calls in some remote location. I feel that the camera technology has not improved anything to these games except make even more controversial and slower.   I really think baseball at this point should have an electronic umpire behind home plate.   If every pitch is going to be scrutinized anyway, why not use the electronic eye. Football calls are the most difficult to see for refs and the camera proves it, but I fear the day when every call gets reviewed just to please one of the teams.  Where does it end?

Lastly, it appears to every sport fan watching know that star athletes receive preferential treatment when it comes to calls. Older players get fewer calls than younger players, and some teams are more penalized than others.  The unions of officiating will deny this but it obvious to most of us who have logged hours in front of the TV. This is most forgiving of the officiating sins but not when it comes to big playtime playoffs.

It seems like there are more and more sports offered for people to perform in, but that means that there is a growing field of employment in officiating. I fear that the way it is going that there will be a shortage of not only officials, but well trained and experienced ones. Doesn’t appear that camera technology is going away so where is the happy medium between the human eye and the technology? College football replays are just as maddening as the NFL so there has to be the place where the two can operate in cohesion instead of the second guessing it is used for now. I am quite sure that there will come a day, at the professional level, on field and court officials will be replaced by the eye in the sky and the officials will be sitting in the command center. Urgh….