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Explaining & Fixing NFL Officiating: No It’s Not Rigged

Explaining and Fixing NFL Officiating

Scott Logush

Sports Editor

NFL Officiating is quite a hot topic lately, especially considering some questionable calls, or in some cases non-calls. So much so that it needs explaining, from looking at some cases throughout the season and even hearing input from a former NFL player it is quite clear that the NFL is not rigged, and can be explained using an old adage. 

Firstly, officiating an NFL game is quite a difficult job and the referees are not full-time which can create quite a problem by itself. Without this being a full-time position, many if not all officials have to have other jobs to be financially stable. Then the lack of ability to invest time into consistency and accuracy creates a number of issues.

You don’t have to trust my word on this, but take it from long-time Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. First, he talks about the inconsistency of NFL officiating, specifically in the Steelers-Browns week 18 matchup as he recapped the game on his podcast Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger. In episode 19 he said the following about missed calls and bad calls while just asking for consistency:

“Early in the game there was a P.I. [Pass interference] that they called on the Browns that benefitted the Steelers that was not P.I. Point blank, was not a P.I. Then there was a call late in the game, a no call on the Browns P.I., that was a P.I. George Pickens gets his head hit before the ball gets there. We’re calling one earlier when no one touched Diontae, now we’re not going to call this one? Just have some consistency, even if it’s a bad call one way keep it going the same.”

This inconsistency brings up another issue, makeup calls. Ben Roethlisberger also goes into detail about these and I could not agree with him more.

“We have what we call ‘makeup calls’ in the NFL. They have calls that when they miss one, they’re coming back with one that’s awful. And that happened in this game. Deshaun Watson got his head ripped off [figuratively speaking of course], his face was grabbed, twisted around, and turned down. [It did] something that your head and helmet can’t do without the help of another grown man. And there’s two officials standing there watching the quarterback, and you’re telling me they can’t see the quarterback’s head get completely ripped down? So they missed that call, benefitted the Steelers. And sure enough, not long after that, Cam Heyward sacks the quarterback. One of the most normal sacks I’ve ever seen. Didn’t slam him, didn’t do anything. Tackled him. Deshaun gave a little this [motioned up with his right hand in a “come on guys” type of manner] like a little kind of flop and here comes the flag… he [Cam Heyward] didn’t slam him, didn’t land on him, he didn’t do anything wrong. That’s called a ‘makeup call,’ and everybody in the world knows it. And it’s just unfortunate that that’s how it goes in the NFL. No one will ever admit to it… every coach, even if you’re a fan and you watch it.” 

This makes sense, and consistency across the board would clear up a lot of issues. Roethlisberger does give the referees some slack because it’s just a brutally tough job:

“It is hard because the game happens fast. And there is human error and I’ll never fault somebody for human error. Like ‘I missed that.’ But when it’s obvious, you can’t miss the obvious ones.” Ben also says he would never want the job to referee in the NFL because of how difficult the job is.

Now it makes sense that makeup calls exist. And the lack of consistency is brutal for players, coaches, and fans alike. But the real problem is a lack of transparency. Having this type of cloak over officiating, and not being transparent about bad calls is what leads to people thinking it is rigged. The idea of makeup calls is a bad idea because it’s just compounding a pre-existing issue. Then with no admission to it makes it worse because it makes everything look fishy and brings the integrity of officials into question. So this old adage perfectly explains this scenario. Hanlon’s Razor.

This explanation is quite simple, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” This means, if something can be explained by error or stupidity, don’t say it came from a place of malice. Is the NFL rigged or does its officiating lack the accuracy and consistency that people would expect? Now how do we fix this problem?

Making NFL officials a full-time position would help the quality of the product in many ways. It would provide a higher standard and allow better and more consistent training, which is what is wanted and needed. Consistency. The NFL needs to really invest in officiating in order to make it better, and then the entire product will be better. I’m surprised this has not become the standard already. 

So remember two words the next time you watch an NFL game and see some officiating misses. Hanlon’s. Razor.

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