NFL referees continue to disappoint fans

Michael Harms , Courier Staff

After the Monday night Packers versus Lions game ended, the only thought going through my head was how the zebras gifted the Packers a win.

I refer to referees as zebras because of their striped uniforms; most refer to them as the blind people trying to keep the game fair. Once again, two flags thrown from the referees gave the Packers two first downs on third down. It did not guarantee a Packers win, but the Lions efforts were cut short not by the Packers, but by the referees.

People are aware of the growing problem in lower leagues throughout the nation with referees. No one wants to do it. Of course not, why would anyone want this job? You get trashed, no one really likes you and it’s a high-pressure job where you are going to make mistakes, and yet you get paid very little. Not an appealing job description.

The problem all starts at the top. The NFL was put on blast after the NFC championship game where an obvious pass interference call went under the radar for the referees on the field and gave the ball to the other team in the situation. The NFL made changes by allowing pass interference calls to be challenged, even no-calls to be challenged by head coaches. What the NFL does not realize is that it made the situation worse.

Everyone knows people are going to make mistakes, but the problem in the NFL is the replay system. Every flag, every call, every play can be replayed in slow motion for the millions watching at home. This means if the referee makes a mistake, everyone knows it, and everyone has an opinion about it. The NFL thought the solution was to allow this not only to continue but to increase the power of the replay with the review.

If someone is in pee-wee football and a referee makes a mistake, maybe it was obvious, but the mistake is seen live and only once. It leaves doubt in people’s minds based on what they saw and what the referees saw. Not every play is under a spotlight and used in high definition slow-motion replay. Mistakes are expected but also expected to be short-lived and consistent on both sides. If you make more mistakes for one team than another it causes even more problems.

The NFL’s decision needs to be changed. It ruins the product. People are blaming the referees for the issues, but the NFL needs to take the blame. They built a product that is designed to be fast-paced, uninterrupted by only minimal reasons, a timeout, injury or end of a quarter. Now the product has interruptions for every mistake the referees make. It’s highlighted and then blamed for causing too many issues in the game.

If the NFL has faith in their referees, they should allow mistakes, attempt to minimize them and then essentially try and disappear. However, the NFL continues to force the referees into the spotlight and taking the blame for their own mistakes. Logically this makes sense, but when put into practice, it causes more issues than solutions.

The MLB has talked about changing their refereeing system. A home plate umpire is probably the most hated person in baseball. In charge of calling balls and strikes along with making a decision of safe or out on a scoring run, he is in charge of the most game-changing calls. The MLB wants to take the human element out of calling balls and strikes and put in a robot powered umpire make the correct call every time.

Will these calls cause problems? Yes, because despite human’s ever-growing trust in technology, it will make a mistake. It will not be perfect and will not be able to keep the game flowing when needed. That is the umpire’s main job, keep the game moving. From one out to the next, the umpire is in charge of game flow. They have put in rules to hurry up the game in baseball that the home umpire is required to enforce.

The MLB hopes to keep the home umpire in the game, simply not calling balls and strikes. My fear is once again that they built a product around this system of balls and strikes. When a manager comes out to challenge an umpire, it’s exciting, fun and part of the game. Why take it out? Why make such a major change to your product simply to end mistakes? Referees are human, let them be.

Mistakes are part of the game. Referees will always be part of the game. It used to be unfortunate but accepted by the general populous. Now the world expects the referees to make zero mistakes under the highest possible pressure. Only the NFL, MLB and other leagues have the power to change the image of the ref.