Better Refs Please

Before we get to th frivolous stuff for the day, let’s delve into the day’s most pressing matter; the perpetually sorry state of NFL officiating. The impetus for this is the end of yesterday’s Steelers-Ravens game (and full disclosure, my wife is a huge Ravens fan), when Santonio Holmes (more disclosure, Santonio is one of my favorite players from his Ohio State days) caught a ball in the end zone with less than a minute to go, but where the ball appeared to not have broken the plain. Indeed, the Side Judge and the Umpire both spotted the ball at the Ravens’s 1 yard line. Here’s the video:

Now referee Walt Coleman doesn’t make mention of where the ball was, and according to NFL.com the definition of a touchdown is “When a ball is dead on or behind a team’s own goal line, provided the impetus came from an opponent and provided it is not a touchdown or a missed field goal.” So to be to the point, Walt Coleman doesn’t know the rule on what is a touchdown, i.e. he doesn’t know that the ball has to cross the plain for a score, which is why he focuses on Holmes’s feet and not the ball.

But worse than this is the way the NFL routinely handles these matters, which is to look you in the eye and tell you black is white, while fining the hell out of anyone with the audacity to call it out. This is Coleman’s post game explanation:

“Yeah, the ball was breaking the plane,” said Coleman, an NFL official for 19 seasons who is known for being the referee in “The Tuck Rule Game” between the Patriots and Oakland Raiders in the playoffs after the 2001 season.

“He had two feet down and completed the catch with control of the ball breaking the plane of the goal line.”

But any idiot can see that the ball has clearly not crossed the plane, and Coleman didn’t even bother to try to claim he did, at least not until after the game (what does it take to get ahold of the NFL offices’ phone records?). So instead of manning up and admitting that referees make mistakes, the NFL continues their policy of claiming infallibility of officials.

Beyond just being annoying, there’s actually a more pressing matter here. The reason the NFL both refuses to admit that their officials make mistakes, to the point of looking you right in the eye and denying “plane” reality, and also imposes enormous fines on anyone who criticizes the officials is pretty simple; the NFL is the only sports league that does not employ full time officials. There’s been some scattered criticism here and there over this, mostly after officials make obviously bad calls, but the NFL generally stamps it out quickly. And that’s what this all boils down to; if they didn’t claim that every decision was right, and didn’t sqaush criticism with an iron fist, then enough pressure could mount to make officials full time employees, and the NFL simply doesn’t want to pay for that. And the product of getting your officials on the cheap is referee’s who don’t know the rules. But thankfully, the NFL doesn’t have shame so they can deal with that.