Zebras Run Amok
Is the ref'ing as bad as the media wants it to be?


Q.  Was the TD call clearly wrong?  If so, was it gross incompetence?

A.  I'd compare it to a runner being out by about a foot sliding into 3B, and being called safe, because the tag was high on the body and it was a little difficult to see.

In real time you didn't hear a lot of people saying it was an obvious call.  In real time, it kind of looked like, four hands on the ball, the defender's hands more firmly, but the receiver's two hands also on the ball ... huh, tie goes to the offense.

Then somebody pointed out hey, the ball was on the defender's chest.  They went, hey, that's right!  They started reinforcing each other in an atomic-reaction loop .... and then everybody smelled their chance to go freakazoid on the replacement refs.  Gleeful in their Dirty Laundry good fortune, the media has spiralled off into a universe of marmalade trees and tangerine skies.  "RIP, NFL" tweeted Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated.  There won't be any limit to their hyperbole at this point.

MLB players, and all sports agents, and everybody who ever had to fight sports owners, sees their chance to stick a finger in Rich Owner's eye.  Sure, I'd have given the ball to Green Bay after review.  But that isn't what the emotion is about.


I could easily see normal refs make this same call.  Let's say it had occurred to end the first half of the 2005 Super Bowl.  Would SportsCenter have made a half-hour show out of it?  Even reverse the roles Monday night, with Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball for the win, and normal refs on the field, do you think the whole game story is the refs?  Or do you think the ESPN anchors are arguing that there is room for the interpretation that the refs made?

In a game of Flier's Up, hit a fly ball to six outfielders and they wrestle for the ball ... sure, I'd have given the ball to Green Bay.  After you pointed out the chest thing to me.


Q.  Should President Obama step in, as is the fashionable suggestion?

A.   I'm a baseball fan.  I've never seen a call that I'd have reversed after I saw the replay.  Nor a call in which two umpires disagreed at first, and one overruled the other.  I'm laughing to keep from crying, Chris.


Q.  Are the replacement refs a joke?

A.  Funny, this is the very last question answered by The Founding Father of Sabermetrics at BJOL:


Have you been following the NFL at all and the controversy over the replacement refs? Everyone is insisting that it's just awful, but I think that the fact that scab officials are being used has drawn everyone's (players, coaches, and THE MEDIA) attention to officiating. They expect them to be bad, therefore they get angrier when they make a mistake. It's not as if the officiating was great in the past. I don't know if you have an opinion, or have seen any games, but wouldn't it make sense that we actually have to compare games officiated in recent years by regular officials to the replacement ones in order to determine that the scabs are that really that bad?
Asked by: Adam
Answered: 9/21/2012
Well. .. no, it wouldn't make sense to do that, because no one would be convinced by the results of your study anyway.   But I watched the Denver/Atlanta Monday night game in which the referees were so heavily criticized, and my reaction was like yours. ...I couldn't really see that these referees made any more mistakes than they usually do; it was just that the media was freaking out about every mis-step because they had an excuse to do so.  

The media was hyper-ready to "report" (sic) on the refs' incompetence before a single whistle was blown.  It's Corporate America against little union workers, so you know where the media's going to be.  The media desperately wanted the scab refs to be bad, and as it turned out, they find themselves in the delightful position of having some factual basis to work with on this one.  Time to party hearty, boys.

As a separate issue, there's a Dirty Laundry angle to the ref "lockout" -- ruthless billionaires crush employees just to send worker bees the message, don't fool with us.  This laundry is actually dirty.  But take it all into account.  You're not getting reporting on the referee'ing; you're getting propaganda.  

Wouldn't you expect "journalists" to present both sides of any story?  Did you see anything on SportsCenter allowing the case for the replacement refs?  

The internet may save America's soul.  I can't see any way to suppress debate any more.  


Q.  Are the replacement refs doing okay?

A.  I don't think so, no.

I don't want to see 24 penalties bring a football game to a crawl.  Nor to see a bunch of mini-fights occurring because the refs have lost emotional control of the game.  The takeaway here is that it actually does seem take a hair-fine judgment, and booming respect, for a referee to maintain control of an NFL game.  There are moderators whose commenters type in curse words and capital letters, and moderators for whom the debates flow smoothly.  The methods used, by the longtimers on the board, to maintain order aren't obvious to the naked eye.

Hadn't realized just how good the NFL referee'ing crew is, in terms of managing the athletes and managing the game, keeping a smooth game going.  The scab refs are skilled and professional, but appear to be in a little over their heads.

The players themselves, such as Steve Young, are aghast at the situation and that tells you something.  Dilfer pointed out, hey, the NFL is constantly on us about the intregity of the game, we'll ban you from football for the hint of gambling, we've got fangs down to our chins, don't mess with the integrity of the game.  And then on a whim, they decide to bully the refs and .... what happened to your concern for the NFL brand there, Mr. CEO?  You're on TV, amigo.  Not for good reasons.

We were at the game, and even in that electric atmosphere, the constant play stoppages were energy-draining.  The questionable calls, like the one on Chancellor, threatened to ruin the game.  It's an issue.

Okay, the smirking owners thought it would be a jolly good time to bully their refs around the schoolyard for a while.  The kid had a couple friends and they just both picked up big rocks.  It's escalated by an order of magnitude, hey, by many orders of magnitude.  Now let's see some heavy CEO rescue action here, Mr. Suit.



M's Watcher's picture

His political solution will be to give Green Bay the win. Wisconsin is a key swing state he needs to win, and he has a lock on Washington State regardless. Oh, it was supposed to be about the game?


Seattle fought like lions (not the Detroit kind) and Green Bay fought back just as hard. It was a glorious game...or it would have been if I wasn't cringing every time a flag flew through the air.
The purpose of the referees is to facilitate the game being played. Not to determine it, or stand in the spotlight, or slow it down, or penalize one team unfairly over another, or remove the joy from the field. The best referees make firm, solid calls when needed to prevent unfair advantage, and otherwise allow a glorious game to be played.
I see too much of these refs. I can already recognize particular back and line judges instead of just White Hats. The players don't respect them, and each week is gonna get more egregious as players try to determine the games for themselves rather than leaving it up to fair play and fairer judging.
If you cannot trust referees to get calls right, then like you said Doc you need to make sure it doesn't come to that. So if you're getting flagged for phantom PI calls then you might as well get your money's worth and kill somebody. If close games are destroying one side with incorrectly called and marked penalties, then make sure games aren't close. Break the opposing QB, take out the starting RB, knock out the WR. Whatever you have to do to make sure you can get a lead that won't be threatened by terrible calls.
Fair ref'ing is what keeps football from being a bloodsport. With it, the players can trust that their effort on the field will be graded correctly. An A game will be a win, a D game will be a loss...but more than that, the difference between a B+ and a B- is correctly administered, and a B- will not be given the gold star ahead of the B+.
The real refs need to come back before the players break the conch shell trying to set up their own system of rewarded effort. The Stanford experiment was shut down in 2 weeks because of the scary places its participants were willing to go. Week 4 of the NFL's version starts on Thursday.

misterjonez's picture

As for officiating, I lost any and all interest in the NFL after Seattle getting double teamed in their Super Bowl appearance.
Too much of that game relies on the referees, in my opinion. There are simply too many uncalled, impactful fouls on you average drive for me to believe there is any kind of credibility in the game at the level of the NFL.
Baseball is interesting, because the umpires have arguably more impact on the game, and plays are generally more high-leverage than in the NFL. But I've never felt like the umps deserved much more than a generalized grumbling. Maybe due to the massive difference in games per season.


Rasmussen has the President up by 3% there.  It's amusing to think that if he intervened in this game, it could very easily swing the state.
Think they were talking about his intervening in the ref lockout in general, though :- )


Picking one line out of a handful:  "Fair ref'ing is what keeps football from being a bloodsport."
Grizz says he goes for SSI riffing off James; by the same token when you give the soccer ball a 2nd kick down the field G there are always several sparkling observations embedded.
Also gives pause for thought, that the Cellblock D inmates will accept this license to manipulate the wardens and the little pretty boys in jail aren't going to benefit from the New Order.  Not a good day for the NFL, agreed.


With the cameras on the strike zone now, and the fact that a runner flying by 1B can never be a judgment call...
The game is bulletproof to ref-fixing, at least on a relative basis.  Who knows - maybe that will be the stealth factor that saves baseball's soul when all the other games have been ruined.

EA's picture

The fact is the regular refs blow these calls all the time. The replacements are worse, but it is something like 10% worse, not 1000% worse. People are looking for a reason to tear in to the replacements. There is also another factor involved in the stream of yellow flags: I think the players are playing sloppy football. Training camp was shortened due to labor issues and I think players are just making mistakes.
BTW, on the replay it looks like Tate has his left arm between the defender and the football anyway. Tate did catch the ball and by NFL rules the offense gets the ball. While it certainly isn't an aesthetically pleasing call it is technically correct. Think about it carefully and ask yourself if you really want the rule to be "Whoever appears to be more deserving of the catch is awarded the ball." The rule as it stands certainly beats that alternative universe.


Some years ago my wife was in a discussion about rotating coverage of the front desk at an office to allow the receptionist/switchboard person go to lunch. For her, it wasn't a big deal and somewhere in the middle of the conversation she said, "Well any idiot can answer a phone." She heard howls somewhat akin to those of Monday Night's Packer fans at the end of the game.
My point here is that it has become common in today's culture to belittle almost any occupation, profession or even hobby that doesn't promise unlimited wealth as the ultimate outcome. The general knee jerk notion is that refs ARE easily replaceable. Go down to the gym and grab any 8 guys who subscribe to NFL Red Zone, and you're good to go.
But, the reality is that experience matters ... and EVERY profession from dog catcher to bank CEO holds the possibility that the absolute BEST people can rise to the top of their profession. While this is not always the case. But in all honesty, just consider the massive difference in MONEY between AAA and the Majors. The players DO the exact same job. But, that last step makes even bench warmers millionaire's in a couple of years. There IS some value in having the very best at ANY profession ... who have worked hard to reach the pinnacle and get reasonably compensated.
Why is it so easy to accept that there is a major difference between watching AAA and the Majors ... but for "lesser" professions even the concept that maybe there is a difference between the cream of the crop vs. the second tier is dismissed?
My wife learned that answering a phone was something that a number of these other people did NOT find easy or felt comfortable doing. I'm also betting pretty much everyone has at some time been on the phone with someone that clearly didn't know how to answer a phone or communicate over wire.
I've never reffed. But, I do understand that while the offense and defense for NFL teams each sit on the bench half the time, the refs are moving around the field all 60 minutes. From a purely physical standpoint, these guys have to be in pretty good shape. They must not only watch, move, react and assess the game situation second by second, they must attempt to avoid contact and stay out of the action ... and then must attempt to judge the actions of all these moving athletes, (the biggest, fastest, most agile behemoths on the planet). Yet ... we think that the difference between the cream of the crop and the second tier is nothing?!?
Yes ... the refs can be replaced. And yes, if the replacements are at the job long enough, they'll improve. But, what if the next time a pro union strikes, the strikers were permanently banned? If they simply promote every AAA team to the majors, is it the same game?
How many years does it take to gain the experience to truly be the best ref in the world? I don't know. But, when you go to low-A football to recruit your replacements, you have made a concious decision to not even settle for the second tier. You're settling for the 5th tier and that only happens if there is a foundation principle in play ... that your original refs were not in fact the best ... that the difference between NFL and C- football referees is trivial.
Experience matters.
Being CONCERNED about having the "best" at anything matters.
The NFL has become great because for nearly 50 years, they were intent on having the best athletes and best stadiums and best TV deals and best merchandising and best ground crews and best technology. But, the danger here is vastly, vastly more dangerous than the occasional blown call. When an entire industry nods in agreement that settling not for 2nd best ... but 5th best is sufficient, then it will become easier with each subsequent decision to "settle" for less.
The NFL set up a league where EVERY team was given a truly equal chance to compete and there was no incentive to remain incompetent and simply cash your checks and settle for being the perennial doormat. The idea is easy to dismiss ... but if the NFL starts thinking "second tier refs are good enough" then some day ... not tomorrow or the next day ... but soon and for the rest of their life ... they will be inviting some other entity intent on being best in everything to come and unseat them.


Those hair-fine definitions of the rules are there to eliminate or minimize personal interpretation.
I hadn't noticed the left arm between the football and the defender's chest.  If that be the case, then I'd prefer Tate's chances to wrestle the ball away in a tug-of-war.  And wouldn't that be a good definition of whether it was a tie?  ... whether the two of them would tussle for a few seconds over the ball?


In baseball, the umps penalize the team that did something stupid.  If the first baseman juggles the ball, then even if the runner's slightly out, it was the 1B who could have ensured an out by just catching the ball cleanly, so they don't argue.  The ump just goes "You shoulda caught the ball."
GB isn't ashamed that they got greedy and tried to intercept, rather than knocking the ball straight down? ... has that factor gotten any air time?


And if we figured it would get better week-by-week, that would be okay.
But the media is trying to pile on every bit of pressure it can, almost in hopes that the refs will foul up worse.  Right now it's a real issue IMHO.
Good post San-Man.


On most replays you can't really see the ball.
But you can see one ref, not screened by the players, looking directly at the ball and not signaling touchdown, and another ref, apparently screened by the players, not seeming to be looking directly at the ball, and signaling touchdown.
And not only are they simultaneously making opposite calls, the guy with what appears to be the worse view is the guy whose call prevails.
To the casual viewer, that says "chaos", "clueless", "no one is in charge here"  -- whether the actual technical rule interpretation is right or not.
I think that's the visual that doomed the replacement refs.


How good they were or weren't was debatable, but it seemed they were floating around in the ocean with waves starting to go over their heads ... in context, for refs from such low levels of football to go out there with so much at stake, and to work so hard at it, was pretty impressive to me.
The NFL rescues its "brand" a couple of days after the firestorm.  MLB owners might have dug in, because of their egos, and twisted in the wind for a year.  NFL owners are about money.  The media and the original refs can take solace in a minor battle won, but there is no shaking the money juggernaut that is the NFL steering committee.  
I've nothing but a sad admiration for the implacable F-500 predator that is the NFL.

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