Full-time NFL officials aren't the answer
[size=9px]John Czarnecki / FOXSports.com [/size]
The worst result of several questionable officiating calls in Super Bowl XL was that more than 141 million fans were watching, allowing for a multitude of second-guessing that rarely happens on a regular Sunday of pro football.
The NFL stood behind the calls of referee Bill Leavy, who was working his first Super Bowl, and his all-star crew, but that is simply the politically correct thing to do.
But what can be done?
Are full-time officials needed?
Well, that argument has never made sense because too many experienced officials would never quit their Monday through Friday jobs to simply work 20 games a year. Plus, the majority of owners have never believed full-time officials made fiscal sense or would actually improve their game-day performances. Besides, what would you do with these guys between February and July?
Mike Pereira, who heads the league's officiating department, understands that he has a lot of work to do to simply combat public perception (and Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren's belief) that the officials impacted the game unfavorably against the Seahawks.
Seattle was penalized seven times for 70 yards, and three major calls in the game gave Pittsburgh a touchdown, took one away from Seattle and negated a major pass completion that would have given the Seahawsk a first down inside the Pittsburgh five-yard line. Technically, those calls added up to a potential 17-point swing in a 21-10 Pittsburgh win.
Pereira and his staff grade the officials weekly, and the ones who made the least mistakes in their view during the regular season are awarded with Super Bowl assignments. Consequently, back judge Bob Waggoner was considered the league's best; it was his view that Seattle receiver Darrell Jackson gained competitive advantage by using his right arm to contact Pittsburgh safety Chris Hope in the end zone. Waggoner called offensive pass interference on the play, one that negated a long touchdown reception by Jackson.
The league's competition committee will meet this week in Indianapolis to briefly discuss some ways to review officiating overall. But the league is limited in what they can really do. I mean, they're not about to fire all of these officials and start all over.
But here are some suggestions that they should consider:
# Instead of using an All-Star crew, why not simply employ the league's highest-graded regular-season crew do the Super Bowl? Why should Leavy be working the sport's biggest game with unfamiliar faces, a crew he hasn't worked with all season?
During the course of a season, a referee builds a strong bond of communication with the men in his crew. He knows their strengths and weaknesses. It may make sense to rotate in a couple of veteran officials for some younger (or weaker) ones on a particular crew, but for a cohesive officiating day, it makes sense to keep the crews together. It's called teamwork. It generally succeeds with teams; why wouldn't it work for officiating crews, too?
# Officials have never really liked instant replay, believing it only undermines their on-field credibility. But the owners want it, and the officials have to live with it. Personally, it does correct some horrible calls made on the field.
In the Super Bowl, Leavy viewed the instant replay of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's dive to the goal line that was ruled a touchdown on the field. Leavy did the correct thing after viewing all the replay angles. There wasn't a conclusive angle to overturn the touchdown; so Leavy didn't. He simply followed the rules of how to use instant replay.
From the Seahawks' view, they believed the tip of the football, tucked in Roethlisberger's right arm, never grazed the white line of the end zone. Depending on your allegiance, you could accept both views: he scored, yet he didn't score. It was impossible to see the football, and the officials simply made a subjective call based on the probability that the ball touched the white line (it doesn't have to go over the line) because it looked like Roethlisberger's right arm did.
Because instant replay is such a big part of the game, and the fact that the networks tend to show a hundred replays of plays throughout a telecast, why not make the replay judge a member of the officiating crew? This would allow him to contact the referee about possibly overturning a poor call on the field?
Now, the crews wouldn't like this, but it may help the game by correcting obvious mistakes. For example, the illegal block below the waist called on Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, when he tackled Steelers defender Ike Taylor, was definitely wrong, giving Pittsburgh an additional 15 yards. A good replay judge could have corrected that call.
Probably the best way to have such a system would be to rotate every member of an officiating crew into the replay booth. Allow them all to take turns watching the game, which seems to be played at such a fast level that some officials simply can't seem to keep pace with the speed of the players.
Pereira may view this as ultimate second guessing, but why not fix obvious mistakes? Isn't making the correct call what everyone wants? There isn't a coach in the league who doesn't hate to receive a memo from Pereira during the week informing him that two or three incorrect calls were made in the previous weekend's games. Those memos happen all the time.
And by making the replay official also a member of the officiating crew, it might actually build some camaraderie. The argument against such a plan is that it will cause officials to become more tentative on blowing their whistles. Of course, I don't view that as a bad thing.
# The playoffs had numerous questionable calls. New England coach Bill Belichick wasn't pleased with how his game against Denver was officiated. A questionable pass interference penalty in that game against Asante Samuel awarded the Broncos with the ball on the one-yard line that led directly to the game's first touchdown. The league may even want to copy the college rule of a 15-yard penalty for pass interference, especially if the play isn't a blatant tackle or pull down because a defender is beaten. Make the penalty similar to the incidental face-mask grab (five-yard penalty) instead of the intentional face-mask penalty that is a major personal foul worthy of 15 yards.
# Finally, there is nothing I like more during a game than to watch the officials huddle and discuss the play amongst themselves. In baseball, that system tends to work and it would be good for football crews to talk about a penalty or a critical change of possession, too Ã¢â‚¬â€ just to make sure they are right. A good debate can often lead to a good result.