Starkey: NFL officiating boggles the mind
By The Tribune-Review
Published: Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, 10:48 p.m.
I have no idea.
That is my reflexive response when somebody — wife, father, friend — wonders about the simplest of NFL plays these days.
What's a fumble?
Can anybody hit the quarterback?
Was that interference?
What's a catch?
Does Marv Albert really not know that overtime continues after a first-drive field goal?
What's a legal tackle?
I have no idea!
I've been watching football for 43 years. I used to know the rules. I don't even know what constitutes a touchdown anymore (Calvin Johnson surely could relate).
It's not funny. The wrong teams are making the playoffs. An increasingly unwieldy, incomprehensible rulebook, combined with incompetent officiating, have begun to erode the NFL's competitive integrity — and the more of that you lose, the closer you get to studio wrestling.
Part of me wants replay to disappear because, truly, what good is it doing?
Liberal use of video review hasn't stopped games from being decided on spectacularly ridiculous officiating blunders. It hasn't stopped the NFL's brain trust from expanding its rulebook faster than Beaver Stadium and filling it with purposely vague edicts (easier to rationalize).
Another part of me would love to see more calls subjected to centralized replay. I'd like to see more use of technology all the way around.
Do we really still measure first downs with two sticks and a chain?
A fake punt in San Diego last weekend illustrated much that is wrong with the way NFL games are adjudicated. You might have heard about it.
Eric Weddle, captain of the Chargers' special teams, went insane and called for a fake punt deep in his territory in overtime. The Chiefs at first appeared to stop Weddle short of a first down. His teammates pushed him ahead. His helmet popped off.
At some point, the Chiefs ripped the ball out of Weddle's hands and returned it for a touchdown. Both coaches thought the game was over.
Did a whistle blow?
Was the play dead when Weddle's helmet popped off?
Was it dead before he fumbled?
Could any or all of this be reviewed?
Did Marv Albert think the game was over?
I had no idea. So I waited for Bill Leavy — the referee whose crew murdered Super Bowl XL — to clarify. He merely signaled for a first down. Carry on. Nothing to see here.
A day later, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino confirmed that the whistle had blown prior to the fumble, which made the rest of the play non-reviewable. But he said the prefumble forward progress should have been reviewed. Nobody mentioned the flying helmet.
Of course you don't. Even the NFL's clarifications are confusing.
The league's officiating system has become so dense, so utterly unintelligible, that it's a miracle every game doesn't end with a canned Blandino apology running with the credits.
Weddle's wobble wasn't even the most controversial call of the game. That happened on a field-goal try. You might have heard about it.
Blandino admitted a mistake there, too, just as he acknowledged a grave error in Week 1 — when the Chargers got hosed against Houston — and many more in between. This was a brutally embarrassing year for NFL officiating, even worse than last year, which began with replacement refs and ended in massive controversy at the Super Bowl.
Among the litany of outrages this season was a game (Patriots-Panthers) that ended with a back judge tossing a flag for what appeared to be the most obvious interference call in football history only to pick it up and walk off the field without explanation.
Steelers games produced a catalogue of gaffes, including a disturbing case of neglect from the Buffalo game.
In that one, the Bills were trailing 23-3 when they clearly jumped the snap before their last-second touchdown. Steelers safety Ryan Clark told me he received the following explanation from referee Scott Green, the same guy whose crew screwed up the end of a Steelers-Chargers game a few years back, taking away a Troy Polamalu touchdown and thus costing bettors millions.
If you had the Steelers covering that day, you know the name Scott Green.
“(A Bills player) did jump, and the referee told me, he was like, ‘Do you see the scoreboard?' ” Clark said, implying that Green didn't care to call a penalty late in a lopsided game. “And I was like, ‘Do I care?' ”
You'd think the NFL would be mortified by the way this season has gone. You'd think Goodell would be worried sick that another sensational blunder will ruin a Super Bowl scheduled for his backyard Feb. 2.
But I'm not sure Goodell considers any of this an issue, given the revenues that keep rolling in.
I'm not sure he has any idea.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at email@example.com.
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