Sports officiating is certainly a thankless job.
So often a fan will hear “good call by the official” from broadcasters after a referee correctly calls a close play, but the praise just about ends there. More often than not, officials are the targets of blame for bad calls.
There are small instances, like a called third strike that was slightly off the plate, or a missed holding call on an offensive lineman. And then there are the big screwups, like Jim Joyce’s blown call that ruined Armando Gallarraga’s perfect game back in 2010. No matter the severity of a missed call, they draw the ire of players and fans alike. Because of this, referees and umpires have the reputation of the “enemy.”
But, this is not necessarily the case. Officiating any sport is an incredibly difficult job because of the quick decisions that need to be made. For every one call an official misses, likely there are many more good ones that are made. It is understandable to be upset after a missed call, but this mentality can lead down a dangerous path – one in which a group of fans decide to start a petition to get an official fired for a perceived bias against a team.
After the Eagles defeated the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 12, some Eagles fans were not happy with Pete Morelli’s officiating crew flagging Philadelphia 10 times for 126 yards. A change.org petition was started to ban Morelli from refereeing Eagles games – and nearly 75,000 people have signed it, as of Oct. 22.
Scott Green, the NFL’s head of officiating, issued a statement criticizing this petition, saying that it shows “a fundamental lack of knowledge about NFL officiating.” He noted that all officials are graded on each of their calls, which affects their standing in future regular season and postseason games. He also mentioned that every officiating crew is composed of different referees each season. The petition was vetoed and the NFL ruled that Morelli will continue to officiate Eagles games.
This is a perfect example of the wrong way to go about criticizing officials. Rather than start a witch-hunt for a referee, fans should advocate for more practical changes. Specifically, the further implementation of instant replay in every major sport.
Instant replay may slow down the game, but getting the call right should be more important than concerns about game length. We live in an age where every play can be viewed from multiple angles and officials can determine who is safe or out by fractions of a second. If this technology is available, why hesitate to use it? It will only improve the product on the field by making sure every call is correct.
The NFL is starting to go down this path, as instant replay is a major part of football. Every scoring play and turnover is reviewed and there are automatic booth reviews inside of two minutes in each half and in overtime. This is certainly a step in the right direction, and can further be expanded on by allowing the officials to review every play they deem questionable, including penalties.
The MLB is certainly behind the NFL, as it was the last of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States to implement the use of replay. But the MLB is also making strides in favor of replay usage, allowing one coach’s challenge for each side and letting the umpire crew chief to initiate reviews if deemed necessary.
Officials sometimes make mistakes and sometimes they deserve criticism for them. But rather than ousting them for making bad calls, fans should try to advocate for systems that will guarantee accuracy.
Matt Lapolla is a broadcasting major from Union, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MatthewLapolla.