The NFL Has a Refereeing Problem

Minnesota limped to the finish line this past Saturday against the high school head coach-led Indianapolis Colts. The first half had just about every Vikings fan matching the blood-alcohol levels of your average Wisconsinite as Minnesota fell flat on its face in all three phases. Seriously, how do you manage to be that bad at football for 2 straight quarters and win? Jeff Saturday, that’s how. Also in no thanks to the refereeing.

This win is capturing the attention of most football fans for its improbability, but most of us Vikings fans are left complaining after the refs left two touchdowns off the board, both scoop and scores by Chandon Sullivan. Both plays were called back as the refs declared the plays dead before the fumble. The first being blown dead as the refs stated the halting of forward progress, the second after the running back had been swarmed by tacklers and the refs considered the play, once again, dead. Listen, I’m all for player safety, especially in such a contact heavy sport where most of our post-retirement players tragically lose their lives to brain injuries, but neither call followed that line of thinking. Prematurely blowing a play dead is rather tricky for the zebras, but veteran officials should understand by now that in the pros, most plays aren’t over unless you see the ball carrier hit the ground from contact. Both times the refs just considered the runner immovable, which is fair if you’re gonna call that 2-3 seconds into a standoff, not almost as soon as the ball comes loose.

I know complaining about refs has become a tired old habit that every sports fan hates to hear but participates in anyway because officials are the scapegoats of every sport, literally ever. It’s hard though, to drop it this time when I’m pretty sure every NFL fan can agree that it’s totally fine to just let them play. It’s a contact sport, football is inherently violent. In plays like that, it’s two athletes at the apex of the sport challenging each other in the most simple yet definitive battle of the gridiron, the runner versus the tackler. It’s here where we see the biggest issues with referees, when they begin to interfere with the core values and spirit of the sport. There’s a difference between player safety and the spirit of the game. These players sign up to play a heavy contact sport, they know what they’re getting into.

It feels like every season we’re saying the same thing about the officiating. “Every year is bad but this year is a new low” has become the rallying cry of every sports fan. Instant replay has degraded the rule book into a technicality driven mess, and it feels like our number one issue is the lack of inconsistency. Listen, they’re only human, they’re gonna get it wrong from time to time, but the whole point of instant replay is to rectify what they miss, not ruin plays based on technicality. The debate we’ve seen a lot with penalties like unnecessary roughness or pass interference is the “let the play” argument. Like I said before, football is an inherently violent sport. Contact happens, and players get emotional. These are highly competitive athletes playing at the peak of their sport, they’re going to get physical. Often times we see a lot of hand fights, shoving, or any contact in general that may lead you to believe that it’s pass interference, but I think most of us agree that unless it’s truly egregious or blatant, or at the very least a clear effort at being a hindrance via unfair advantage, it’s probably not interference. It’s a defender’s job to stop the play, they’re going to do what they can to do said job.

Us Vikings fans have had plenty of missed calls to complain about this season. The Bills game had both the Gabe Davis catch that should’ve been ruled incomplete, and the somehow missed 12 men on the field in overtime. Thankfully Minnesota overcame both in the end, but they very nearly cost Minnesota the game. The same could be said for the referee that had run into Cam Bynum allowing a miraculous touchdown against the Commanders, something that I believe should trigger the introduction of a rule change. If an official interferes with a play like that, in which an element out of the control of the players directly affects the result of a play, it should be called back as incomplete or a replay on downs. Just saying “oh, unlucky” isn’t a proper response to seeing a touchdown scored after a ref basically ran into a defender who was in prime position to intercept the pass.

Complaining about refereeing is the bread of and butter of sports fans. We do it all the time in every sport. Hell, the Qatar World Cup may have seen the most complaints on officiating I’ve ever seen in a major competition, and a majority of them were pretty justified. We’re all living in a world where the supreme authority on the field or court is some egomaniac who gets the insignificant calls almost every time, but coincidentally misses the most crucial at the same time, or so we think. Yes, reffing is frustrating to watch, but it’s even more frustrating to do. I’ve only ever refed at the YMCA youth soccer level, but even that was kinda stressful. People are always screaming about the “right” or “wrong” calls, sometimes being the only poor soul out there making it even harder to tell when there is or isn’t a foul. Reffing requires an intense amount of attention and effort. The thing is some of these refs are paid very handsomely, so you’d expect some appropriate work in return. The thing is, sometimes you don’t. I’ll always remember a great quote, “you want a ref who’s desperate to keep their job”.

To be honest, long rants like these are probably typical of every sports fan. Everyone has a bone to pick with referees nowadays. It’s human nature to find a scapegoat, and when your decisions can single-handedly swing the momentum and possible result or outcome of a game or match, you’re an easy target. In truth, it’s useless to complain about officiating because it’s never going to change. We’ve been complaining since the first caveman kicked a rock for Christ’s sake, and almost always the officials are left unpunished. You never see the changes we demand, we don’t get the redo’s we think we deserve, we have to just suck it up and move on, and honestly, that’s kinda fair. It’s the way life is, and even though you can make the argument, “that may be how life works, but the rules are the rules”, another rule simply is the rule of life. To put it simply, sh#t happens, oh well, move on.
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