Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Sep 2012

MMQB: On Officiating

This week, PK writes a scathing review of the replacement refs, wonders if the power is shifting to the west after a big week for their clubs, and goes over Green Bay's fake field goal touchdown with the main parties involved.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 17 Sep 2012

56 comments, Last at 14 Mar 2013, 2:38am by jeanneflor


by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 11:31am

Lost in most of the referee articles, including this one by PK, is what the alternatives should be. The NFL wants full-time officials and that's a sticking point with the regular refs. Long-term, that's clearly the way to go and I'd think that's non-negotiable on the NFL's part. The league also raised their offer by a million bucks and the refs haven't budged. Does PK want to see no season until a deal is reached? Personally, I'll put up with some extra blown calls to avoid that.

by Insancipitory :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 11:44am

I don't think there are extra blown calls, I think week 1 was about par or better. Week 2 I was at a game so I saw less. Even though I didn't like how some of the calls or non-calls went, I didn't have any sense it was one-sided.

While the replacements aren't as good at managing a game (though the Seahawks game was extremely quick despite a couple of seeming pointless extended conferances) my early impression is they're providing a slightly better, though rougher looking product. And that's not going to show up in my ticket prices? Fantastic. And there's reason to believe the officiating will improve? See ya, 'Guns' good luck at your law firm.

by Dennis :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 11:52am

What are you watching that's a better product? The officiating in the games I watched was horrendous this week. Just because it's not one-sided doesn't mean it's not affecting the quality of the product.

by RC (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:01pm

I saw the replacement refs blowing a couple calls a game, but getting most of them right... which is about what the normal refs were doing.

by DavidL :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:07pm

I recommend watching Eagles/Ravens, then.

by Dennis :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 6:29pm

And the Jets-Steelers.

by Mark S. (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 9:47pm

And Rams-Redskins.

And Detroit-SanFran.

And now: the first quarter of the in progress (as I type) Denver-Atlanta game could be the worst of all.

It's bad, folks. It's very, very bad.

by Mark S. (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 9:53pm

Haha. Mike Titico on the DEN-ATL officials: "It's embarassing. They have completely lost control of the game."

by Insancipitory :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:04pm

Some people compare more about appearances. I'm not one of them.

by RickD :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:27pm

The "appearance" of bad officiating reflects the "reality" of bad officiating fairly accurately.

Your clever-sounding response is nothing more than a non-responsive dodge.

by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:22pm

Not necessarily. Added attention to anything can make it look worse. I've seen routine calls scrutinized that never would have gotten a word said about them in prior years.

Last night on Sportscenter they were debating an incomplete pass that stopped the Bucs final drive against the Giants. Sideline pattern where guy had it initially, but it was jarred out. (It was out before him even hitting the ground, so it wasn't even a matter of "failing to complete the catch" it was just a normal incompletion.) Yet they went on about how "close" a call it had been. No. They were either ignorant of the rules or simply wanted to create the impression of controversy.

by Insancipitory :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:50pm

Please, feel free to go back to the post of mine which was repsonded to. The refs calling a game one sided is worse, perhaps worst. The regulars did that often, not routinely, but certainly commonly enough to be expected. That's a fact.

The shininess of the wrapper is indicative of little else. We may or may not have a psychological desire to associate it with anything more, but it is only what it is and no more.

Now the games don't appear as organized, but certianly less spectacular impactful mistakes are being made, and when mistakes are made they're distributed generally equally. The game might not be free of influence outside the execution of the players, but it's not skewed by them, and that's fair.

You want to call that a "dodge," I'll call that a defict intrinsic to the reader.

by Subrata Sircar :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 4:31pm

"... but certianly less spectacular impactful mistakes are being made ..."

You might be "certian" but I'm definitely not. The replacement refs absolutely had an impact on the Rams game last week and were handing out extra downs like they were candy at Halloween this week.

Stepping back for a second, there are four things I see as likely to suffer because of replacement refs:
a. Player safety. It's too soon to say whether not anyone's been injured because of the replacement refs and that's nearly impossible to prove anyway.
b. Level playing field across the league. In other words, everybody plays the same game. This has never really been true because of the subjective nature of the job, but my perception is that there is a much wider variation across the replacements in terms of understanding the rules and confidence in doing the job.
c. Consistency. The replacements are awful at this. They do not call penalties for the same actions - not just for holding, but for things like false starts or illegal contact.
d. Entertainment quality. The more likely the game is to turn on a referee error, the more likely it is that a good team will get screwed, and in the long run the less likely it is that people will care about the game. Assuming that really catastrophic mistakes are rare, this is much-more long term - as in, when the Super Bowl is still reeling from the firestorm when the Giants scored on 5th down to beat the Patriots again.

I should note that my sympathies are entirely with the officials. I don't think their demands are unreasonable, and I think that while the NFL would like full-time refs, their last offer indicates they're unwilling to pay for then. When the NFL asks for full-time refs and pays them their current salary pro-rated to a full year (i.e. closer to triple than double) plus commensurate benefits and funds the year-round training academy, I'll take them more seriously. Anything else is just rich bastards putting to screws to people because they can.

by Dennis :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 6:35pm

I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. On the safety issue, there was a play in the Jets-Steelers game where Sanchez threw a pass that was batted down and the refs took about 5 seconds to finally blow it dead, letting players scramble around for a possible fumble. It wasn't like it was knocked out during his throwing motion where there could have been a question as to whether it was incomplete or a fumble, this was a clear incompletion. There was no excuse for letting the play continue.

by rfh1001 :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 3:45am

I play field hockey at a reasonable standard, and I used to play at a high standard. I live in London. In our league, non-biased but not very competent umpiring has a huge and different effect on every game we play, and players who are not used to a higher level do not necessarily notice or understand that.

At the Olympics, the hockey stadium was full of hockey players from London and national leagues. One of the main topics of conversation was the transformative effect of having top-level umpiring on both the flow of the game (they were brilliant with the small decisions, I am sure you will all agree, especially around the whole vexed area of stick-blocking) and the players' attitude to the decisions.

Small differences make a massive difference. Being of the top level and having someone who isn't of the top level make a mistake is a different thing to being of the top level and having someone who IS of the top level make a mistake. It gets in your head in a totally different way and it gets in a crowd's head in a totally different way. Instead of thinking, 'People are human...' everyone is thinking: 'It doesn't have to be like this!' And it's the sort of thing which ratchets up over time.

by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 11:58am

For the long haul, the NFL is doing the best thing possible right now. If a replacement official blows things too bad, he's gone and somebody else takes his place. And that's going to happen way easier and quicker than an Ed Hochuli could be replaced under any agreement that gets made with the regular refs union. The refs have had more job security than players, which just seems strange to me. And they have pensions for part-time jobs yet still don't want to give up their day jobs and become full-time officials? I wouldn't cave to those guys.

by RickD :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:10pm

Your entire argument is based on the premise that the job is easy, and that therefore replacability should be our primary concern. I would contend that the job is difficult and that the experienced officials produce a far superior product to what the replacements do.

The demand that referees treat the job as a "full-time job" is pretty ridiculous, considering that the actual demand on their time is one day per week for less than half of the year.

"I wouldn't cave to those guys."

Wait - who is locking out whom? Who wants to change the status quo? How is it "caving" to not be able to force others to change the way business has always been done?

The NFL also wants to freeze pension benefits. Why? Is it because the NFL referees in any way constitute a significant operating expense to the league? The best-paid referee makes less money than the league minimum of what a player makes.

No, this is all about rich assholes being what they are: rich assholes. It has far more to do with being anti-union for the sake of being anti-union than it does with anything remotely related to the NFL's bottom line.

by Kyle D. (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:41pm

No, my entire premise is that the regular refs aren't irreplaceable. It has nothing to do with a job being easy. But I have never understood how officials try to get it both ways by arguing that A) It's an impossible job for anybody to do better, but B) They couldn't be any better at it if they devoted full-time to the job.

And you seriously believe officials should be paid the same as players? You actually think that some guy getting killed on the kick return for a few years who'll need a cane by the time he hits 40 may have early onset dementia by the time he's 50 should have a fraction the lifetime earnings as an official who worked 20 years and keeps his law practice on the side?

by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:10pm

Of course the refs make less than players. People don't pay to see the referees.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:50pm

Both of you seem to have completely missed his point on pay. The point was that they are not a significant operating expense not that they should be paid the same as the minimum players.

by sundown (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 2:56pm

I didn't miss the point. It's just immaterial. Times being good for a company does not mean automatic huge raises for all the employees. Business doesn't work that way and small pieces of an operation (which is what the refs amount to) don't typically get to call the shots. It's not the amount money for either side--as is obvious by how the refs don't even want to be full-time and like to brag about their lucrative side careers--it's about who should be calling the shots. And if the NFL wants full-time referees, it's ridiculous to think they should be thwarted in that effort. The tail doesn't get to wag the dog. Now, the players can make some legitimate arguments that they're who fans want to see. But that's not the case with the refs.

by Boo-urns (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 4:25pm

Actually, you are missing the point(s). 1) The refs aren't demanding a huge raise; the NFL is demanding huge concessions despite record profitability. 2) The NFL isn't a free market; it's a well understood monopoly in pro football. We allow them to operate as such because we think a monopoly is better (than allowing each team to schedule games against any other team they want, with no entry barriers), and because there is collective bargaining with each of the relevant unions of employees. Don't like unions? Then there's a simple solution. Don't allow the monopoly to exist any longer.

You anti-union, pro-"free market" dudes are seriously suffering from cognitive dissonance. The NFL violates every principle of "free markets" out there. You're not being pro-capitalist when you try to shit on the refs for not caving on their pensions, you're being pro-monopoly and fairly stupid at it at that. Waiting for patsfan to chime in with his uninformed comments any moment now.

by TonyD. (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 6:29pm

Just because they're a union doesn't automatically make them right. I was pro-player when they took on the owners but I don't care if the regular refs ever work again. If they want to keep their side careers, they can stop being refs. The veteran refs make over $100K for a part-time job. And they're griping about pensions? What the heck is a pension? Nobody has those any more. And they managed to blow plenty of calls on their own, but now they're up-in-arms when the replacements do the same.

by Karl Cuba :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 11:43am

In respect of PK's Chris Johnson abomination of the week I am starting the 'Things that would be more effective than CJ2K' list, feel free to add your own entries:

Every other NFL running back
Every college running back
Every high school running back
Most puppies
Some moss
Tim Tebow (but more annoying)
Queen Elizabeth II

by Guido Merkens :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 11:48am

The world's tallest living person, Sultan Kosen, is 2.75 yards tall. If his team simply ran a QB sneak to him every play and he didn't move his feet, he would be able to fall forward for over twice the average gain of a Chris Johnson run.

by RickD :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:11pm

If he carried the ball on top of his head, and for some reason the defense moved out of the way to let him fall forward without impediment...

by tuluse :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:29pm

You're right, by extending his arms, he could average even more yards per play!

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:43pm

If we credit him for his full arm reach, though, he could make 4 yards.

by jebmak :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 11:38pm

Well, he doesn't start at the LOS either. He gets the ball behind it, so you gotta knock it back down.

by Guest789 :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 4:52pm

Hell, put a tree 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, then at the snap have the QB stick the ball in the branches and tip the tree over.


“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.”

by Guido Merkens :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 11:50am

I've weaned myself off complaining about PK's weekly butchering of the English language. But this snippet was too incredible to pass up:

"'There is no love lost between these teams.' Keep hearing that. Stop the cliche madness, announcers."

And what, pray tell, is "stop the madness"?

by Total (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:32pm

Dude, it's a fairly common phrase. Relax.

by tuluse :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:32pm

I think he's complaining about PK complaining about using cliches and then using one himself immediately afterword.

I don't see how this is butchering the English language though.

by rfh1001 :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 3:37am

I don't mind Peter King. I like that he is a good kick-off point for better discussions here. I do not think he is a great prose stylist.

Interestingly (for an admittedly quite low value of 'interesting'), I was wavering about whether to say this and add: 'Gosh, that metaphor about the speeding car and the officials - that was apposite and arresting. Colour me surprised.' I am not wavering any more.

by Dennis :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 10:14am

I think PK is an excellent reporter - he has good relationships with so many people around the league at all levels and gets some really good stuff from them. At the same time, I think he is a poor writer, especially with his online stuff. It's too bad he can't pass his info to a better writer.

by caw :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:32pm

That's the point. It's a cliche.

by CraigoMc (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 1:34pm

Also known as a "cliche."

by DavidL :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:01pm

An MDS shoutout worth repeating:

"The headline and lead from ProFootballTalk.com's Michael David Smith after former Bucs offensive lineman Ian Beckles was busted Friday night for improper touching of a police horse (apparently while intoxicated). The headline: "Ex-NFL player Ian Beckles arrested in altercation with police horse." The lead: "In what is believed to be the first case of ex-NFL lineman-on-horse crime since Alex Karras in Blazing Saddles,' touching a police horse got former NFL player and current sports talk radio host Ian Beckles arrested." Fine work, Mr. Smith."

by RickD :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:18pm

omigod, Peter King is pointing out that the number of 2-0 teams is going to be exactly the same as the number of 0-2 teams.

(*Beat head against desk*)

It's called math, Peter. At the end of every week of games, the total number of wins equals the total number of losses. So, after week 2 in every season of football every played (minus ties and minus the stupid season when bye weeks were started as early as week 2), the number of 0-2 teams has exactly equaled the number of 2-0 teams. Unless you have a game with two winners or a game with two losers, this is going to always be true.

by Independent George :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 12:29pm

Deleted because my math was wrong.

by Gauss (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 3:37pm

I noticed this too. I wonder if he'll run an email from someone explaining it. You should send this in if you didn't already.

by Rams Fan (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 2:28pm

I thought the Rams-Redskins game was one of the worst officiated NFL games I've ever seen. Both teams had reasons to complain.

This goes way beyond simply missing calls. It's the actual incompetence these guys are displaying. Not knowing the rules. Being too tentative to make *ANY* call. Being goaded into flags by players/coaches. It's awful.

by Anonymous... (not verified) :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 3:10pm

Ravens/Eagles was pretty lawless too. Especially that Vick fumble/int. grounding/incomplete pass call at the end. I got the sense they wanted video review to save the day, but to proceed that far that had to make some kind of semi-plausible ruling on the play. Ummm, fumble?

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 4:45pm

It seems the lawlessness of the games, more than the bad calls, are the problem with the replacement refs. I don't think the bad calls are worse than I've seen in other games (paging Jeff Triplett). It's that the regular refs seem to do a better job of keeping the players from pushing the limits playing beyond the whistle and other borderline behavior.

by Insancipitory :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 5:04pm

I can agree with that. Let's see how they do with another week of coaching.

by Sifter :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 12:00am

^Agree with you sir! The calls themselves aren't really what annoys me. For time immemorial there has been questionable calls (and brain dead fans that blame refs for their team losing..). But the noticeable difference this year in my eyes is not so much the calls but the behaviour. There seems to be a lot more post-play jawing, a lot more hand waving by players and coaches going apeshit on the sideline.

And this is the real problem with replacements: they don't have the respect of the players and coaches. And due to that lack of respect, and lack of experience to handle the high level of scrutiny and abuse, the replacement refs are also getting intimidated. More than once we've seen refs give coaches a timeout when they didn't deserve one (eg. play clock already run down). We are seeing flags take longer to come out, plays not whistled dead etc. It's part lack of confidence, but some seem to be stepping on egg shells too - being too cautious and not wanting to get on the bad side of anyone. I know this happens to me when I have to fill in ref at my basketball comp!

I'm not sure it's a problem that can be fixed with replacements still there. Will be interesting to see how everyone behaves once the regulars come back :)

by justanothersteve :: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 5:00pm

I can't remember where I heard it. It may even be the NFL's goal. I heard one sports guy say they should take some of the young players who don't make it in the NFL (due to injury or just lack of elite talent) and start a training program where they become full-time refs. They'd be full-time NFL employees who during the off-season could be involved in monitoring training camps, PR work, and analysing how to improve the game. They might even be a valuable resource on how to prevent (or at least reduce) injuries.

Yes, they won't make as much as the players. But if you had a shot out of college to start at $75K/year with a ceiling about twice that (plus a per diem for travel) and about 3 months vacation/year (even with no weeks off from Labor Day through mid-January), there are a lot of guys who would be happy to take it.

by evenchunkiermonkey :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 2:05am

I'm posting this after the den@atl game. The replacements have to go. Nearly 4 hours to play a football game? Unacceptable. Not only are these replacement guys not keeping the game moving, there's a systemic lack of control period. At some point this season there's going to be a 53 on 53 man brawl. Because of work this week I only saw two games, but both had scuffles that threatened to blossom into a full-fledged royal rumble. Just as quick point on the $$$ aspect, the cut in pension contribution is only $100k per team. How can any owner say that amount is a make-or-break sum to their business?

by jklps :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 1:36pm

Same thing happened on Sunday in WAS @ STL but since it wasn't on national tv it was ignored slightly.

by Jimmy :: Wed, 09/19/2012 - 8:26am

The cash difference is equivalent to approximately thirty percent of Goodell's salary for this season and Goodell's salary doubles by the end of the CBA. I can think of an easy way to save this money.

by DavidL :: Wed, 09/19/2012 - 10:34am

Fire half the refs?

by DavidL :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 1:57pm

Apparently one of the refs in Ravens/Eagles joked with LeSean McCoy about needing him to do well to win a fantasy matchup. Even if that was just a joke, holy crap that's not appropriate.

by Kevin from Philly :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 7:42pm

Well, hell then - the ref should have called him down by contact when Shady fumbled the ball away.

by ab (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 4:55pm

What's embarrassing is less the blown calls (which are slightly embarrassing) but the not knowing the rules.

It's clear the replacement refs don't know things like what is and is not a challengeable play, how many yards each penalty is, or how to deal with the clock.

The thing that has struck me in these 2 weeks is how many snafus there have been with all of those things (multiple 2 minute warnings, additional time-outs, 11 and 8 yard penalties) etc.

I can see that being promoted from Div III CFB may make it hard to see some calls on NFL-speed plays. I can't see how there is any excuse for not knowing the rule book. Embarrassing.

by erniecohen :: Wed, 09/19/2012 - 11:25pm

Some comments on the whole refereeing business:

- They could easily eliminate 90% of the mistakes by just having the referee upstairs in the ears of the referees on the field, saying "that's a forward pass" or "that catch is out of bounds". Instant replay and a multitude of camera angles is just a tremendous advantage for the boys in the booth.

- What's concerning about the referees isn't just that they're getting calls wrong. What's much worse is that they seem to be intimidated by the players, to the point that "working the referee" is really paying off. I think it was Santonio Holmes who said that he thought the refs were okay because they were listening to him.

by jeanneflor (not verified) :: Thu, 03/14/2013 - 2:38am

This is really one of the best and i can always take care of it now.. Thanks much for what you've done. I love it then.
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