NFL expert Lindsey Prather argues that refs are failing and are immune to certain rule changes.
The NFL has had a significant officiating problem for some time now. Immediately following an absolutely egregious no-call during the Saints vs. Rams semifinal game last season, the NFL implemented a new rule: reviewable penalties.
If officials miss a vital penalty that could alter the result of a game, coaches can now challenge it.The booth will review the play and potentially throw a flag. If coaches think officials called a questionable penalty, they can throw the challenge flag, and it will get a second look.
At least, this is how it works in theory. In practice, it hasn’t really changed anything at all. The reality is, most officials don’t like admitting that they missed a call or acted overzealously. Although this new rule only directly applies to “pass interference” penalties, this rule change has resulted in the officials doubling down on questionable calls to the detriment of the game.
On Oct. 14, the Green Bay Packers narrowly defeated the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football, 23-22. The game was rife with poor calls, however. The penalties called on Trey Flowers were potentially the most egregious. Flowers, a defensive end for the Lions, was called for two hands to the face penalties, both during crucial moments in the fourth quarter.
These flags allowed the Packers escape a long third down sack, and eventually score to win the game. Each time, the replay showed that Flowers was actually grabbing the offensive lineman’s shoulder pads ─ not helmet ─ which should not have been penalized in either case.
This game is a prime example of the ability of referees to act as kingmakers, involving themselves in the game to such an extent that they are effectively choosing who wins. In this particular case, the Lions would have been able to topple a division rival that was in the midst of a stubborn winning streak. Throughout this season, officials have been responsible for excessive and questionable penalties.
During a drive in the Dallas Cowboys vs. the New York Jets game on Oct. 13, the referees perpetrated a five-play streak in which a subjective penalty was called. Constant penalties and questionable calls are causing resentment and irritation among fans.
Despite being the catalyst for the new rule, the present issue isn’t that officials are missing blatant calls. Several core problems remain — prevalence of bad calls, the confusion surrounding the rules, as well as the overall lack of accountability for NFL refs. Although the new rule allowing for review is a step in the right direction, even when coaches use this challenge it is exceptionally unlikely that the call will be reversed.
There are a number of improvements that could be made. A particularly controversial one is the introduction of more technology. For example: implementing a system akin to soccer’s VR judge to assist with close calls.
The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business, and making officiating transparent and consistent should be their top priority.