When you use contrition as deflection, just how much remorse could you possibly feel?
That’s probably the question the Baltimore Ravens want answered right now as their trying season continued last week with yet another close loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The league admitted earlier this week that Jason Myers’ game-winning 53-yard field goal on an untimed down after time expired due to a penalty should have never been allowed because of a blown false-start call on the previous play.
Long before Ravens edge rusher Elvis Dumervil took down Jags’ quarterback Blake Bortles by the facemask, Jacksonville wasn’t set. The pre-snap penalty would have rendered Dumervil’s foul meaningless and resulted in a 10-second run off, meaning a 20-19 Baltimore win.
Instead the facemask was whistled, an untimed down was allowed and Myers split the uprights.
NFL spokesman Michael Signora explained the miscue to NFL Media on Monday.
“Inside of one minute remaining of either half, with the game clock running, when the offense is not set simultaneously prior to the snap, it’s a false start. This results in a 10-second runoff, which can only be avoided if a team has a timeout remaining,” Signora said.
“The correct call in this case would have been to penalize the offense for a false start because all 11 players were not set, and whistle to stop the play. The ensuing 10-second runoff should have ended the game.”
Some will applaud the NFL for being so transparent in this issue but it’s really a sleight of hand trick designed to distract its fans from the real problem, an overlegislated game that invites these types of mistakes because the officials are ill-equipped for the speed of game day.
Because almost everyone is held accountable in the NFL, some want Pete Morelli and his crew to be punished for their miscue in Baltimore, something that isn’t going to happen because the NFL realizes its officials are put in untenable positions each and every week.
It’s true we are at a stage of technological development where Dean Blandino can lord over things in New York and correct certain mistakes but in this particular instance, once the false start call was missed, the toothpaste is out of the tube and you have to live with the result of the ensuing butterfly effect.
Suspending Morelli or part of his crew for missing it is also not going to accomplish much because the league correctly considers mistakes in judgement as part of officiating and false starts are missed in every game, every week.
Selective punishment because of the timing one missed false-start call versus another only exacerbates the problem, it doesn’t solve it.
The real answer is full-time, better-trained officials who make fewer mistakes.
For some reason, however, an industry which now generates close to $10 billion a year holds onto an archaic system where officiating NFL games is a well-paying, part-time job for middle-aged men.
“I’m a referee and spend about 15 hours a week reviewing video tape,” Ed Hochuli told ESPN. “I look at game tapes which includes the television view, the sideline view and the end zone view from teams. I have to break that down. I get position tapes. For example, the referees will get referee’s tapes that show intentional grounding, offensive holding, illegal hits to the quarterback, chop blocks and things like that.”
When you add in administrative tasks Hochuli, who is a lawyer by trade, estimates he spends 30 hours a week in-season on his job as the most high-profile arbiter for America’s most successful sports league.
Less important officials obviously spend less time on the gig. Think about the absurdity of that.
With the speed of this game, the NFL should be recruiting young people with the ability to keep up and teaching them the mechanics of the job from square one.
When they are not on the field, officials should be going to work like the rest of us every day, studying film and making themselves better. There should be NFL-sanctioned officials or people training to become one at every single practice session across the country, be it OTAs, training camp or in-season.
That environment would not only sharpen the skills of officials, it would also help the players by giving them a better feel for what the zebras are looking for on game day which in turn will improve the product.
The old, tired arguments that there simply isn’t enough work for full-time officials is not only specious, it’s rooted in a 1970s mentality when the budget wasn’t there to accomplish something of this scope.
Every NFL coach will tell you players get better through repetition.
The same holds true with officials, so why not give them the tools to get better?
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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