By and large the NFL’s policy surrounding officiating is a lot like one of the league’s locker rooms.
Or to be more specific one of the “good” locker rooms. Coaches always preach to keep things in-house and treat the team like it’s a family and family business should never be discussed outside those locker-room walls.
Of course when things go off the rails there are plenty of players who exit the reservation and talk out of turn. Similarly when it comes to officiating in the NFL, you get a strong sense that things have come undone in the league’s eyes.
Dean Blandino, the NFL’s VP of officiating, releases a video every Friday that addresses various calls around the league in an effort to help the media better do its job and to clarify things for coaches.
It’s just another example of failing to see the forest for the trees because if things were clear to begin with, this weekly exercise wouldn’t be needed, but the folks on Park Avenue are so used to the fact their game is overly-legislated they skip the simple fix, actually scaling things back to simplify, and dive right into the minutia of explaining the often unexplainable.
On occasion, Blandino and the NFL will admit a particular call was incorrect, either on the videos or to the teams themselves, but it’s done with an ulterior motive–the guise of promoting the league’s officials and their skills as a whole.
The plan rarely works, however, and the perception around the country is that officiating has hit an all-time low this year and middle-aged men in striped shirts are often deciding important games with shaky calls at inopportune moments.
Overall, the officials themselves are actually doing a good job as defined by the NFL but the public is souring on a product hamstrung by a safety dogma surrounding concussions.
There is no easy answer but the league is certainly starting the hear the criticism of the product evidenced by the fact that the commissioner himself addressed the issue after the winter meetings wrapped up in suburban Dallas.
In response to a series of rather high-profile blown calls and the continuing confusion about what constitutes a catch, Roger Goodell announced he would be forming a group of current and former players, coaches and officials to recommend changes to the system.
“When we talk about integrity of the game, (poor officiating) is one thing that truly affects the integrity of the game,” Goodell admitted. “We strive for perfection. We strive for consistency.
“We’re not going to always get that, but we’re always going to continue to try to get that. Our commitment is to do everything reasonable to make sure that we improve officiating. I’m asking the competition committee to look at various aspects of our officiating to see what we can do to improve it.”
The outcome of at least three games this season —- a Lions loss in Seattle, a Jacksonville victory at Baltimore and Thursday’s Detroit setback to Green Bay — were directly impacted by officiating mistakes.
“We all recognize that officials are going to make mistakes,” Goodell said. “What we need to do is try to avoid those mistakes as much as possible, train them differently, improve the quality of the officiating and use technology to help them when a mistake does occur.”
Nothing specific was offered by Goodell, who still wants to keep things in house, but it is a positive that the league is aware they have a significant problem because the Commish and Co. have been proven to be tone deaf in the past.
Blandino, meanwhile, was a little more defensive on Friday when talking about perception versus reality.
“I want to talk about perception versus reality for a minute,” he said in his weekly video. “And there’s a perception now that officiating is not very good at the moment. But the reality is that the officiating is very good.”
And to prove it the guy in charge of this mess muddied the waters with his own twisted version of analytics.
“Through 12 weeks, we’ve had over 29,000 plays,” Blandino said. “Roughly 160 plays per game, and our officials are averaging just over four mistakes a game — 4.3 mistakes per game. And when you think about those numbers, 29,000 plays — the number of decisions that each official has to make during each play, before each play, after each play — that number is much more than 29,000. And we are talking about a very small number of mistakes. We are talking about a handful of plays that have happened in high-profile situations.”
We are also talking about the people defining those mistakes because that ticky-tack illegal-contact penalty down the field that the rest of America thinks is nothing yet changes the momentum in nearly every NFL game is surely not include in Blandino’s accounting.
The NFL has a problem and the first step to fixing it is admitting it exists.
Instead Blandino wants to eat his cake and have it too.
“We own them,” Blandino said of the mistakes. “We have to make the corrections, the adjustments to ensure that they don’t happen again. But we are talking about a handful of plays, and in the big picture …the officials are very, very good at what they do, and it’s a very difficult job.
“So we understand where the standard is, and we are going to work to meet that standard. But our officials are very, very good at what they do.”
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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