Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Don't blame the officials

Since the dawn of sports, fans and players alike have criticized the officials. Those with an emotional connection to the game often pinning their losses on a couple of calls that didn't go their way.

For those who don't know, I used to officiate high school football games. As a result, I have kind of a unique perspective on this. I'm here to tell you, it's unbelievably stressful, and an extremely difficult task. Unfortunately, I am in a very small minority; very few fans, and even fewer commentators, have ever grabbed a whistle or thrown a flag.

One of the biggest things most fans don't seem to understand is the officials get just one shot at making the call. There is no replay available for the vast majority of calls (all of those that fall under the "judgement" heading are not reviewable). Within a split second, you must decide if the defender did something to impact the receiver when the receiver tried to catch the ball. You don't get to rewind it. You don't get to zoom in. You don't get another angle. You get one shot. And quite often, you're the only official that is looking at that section of the field, so if you boot the call you won't get any help later. Certainly, mistakes happen. But considering the percentage of correct calls under these circumstances, I think we can all agree a little leeway is in order. I challenge anyone who thinks they can do better to find out where their local football officials association gathers and volunteer.

The next thing to keep in mind, is that the majority of the time the official has the best angle on the play. Cameras are in place to give the fan the best overall view of the game, not positioned to make calls. There are times when a camera particular angle won't be correct, and commentators will start complaining about the call. They don't understand what the official saw because they didn't have the same angle. I can tell you at least 9 times out of 10, the official has the better angle.

And then there's the self-proclaimed experts commentators who think they know everything. I always get a kick out of someone criticizing a call when they don't understand the rule in the first place. I like to think I have a decent grasp of the rules, but I also understand I know less than most NFL officials have forgotten. They've been doing this for years, often decades; I did a couple of years at the high school level, and most everyone on TV has never read the rules. Just because Al Michaels (who I respect a lot) says something doesn't make him right and the official wrong.

At the end of the day, the officials are right almost all of the time. The couple of times they are wrong isn't what costs one team the game. Take last night's game as a perfect example. If the Ravens gain one yard on their possession before the Patriots score, they can effectively run the clock out. If Boller doesn't throw to an area of the field with 3 Patriots and 0 Ravens, they at least add 3 more points to the board, which would have meant the Patriots final TD tied the game rather than winning it. In both of those situations, the calls the officials made (correctly, mind you) don't matter one bit.

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