By Rich Tandler
Speaking to a group of about 75 fans in Baltimore before the Ravens took on the Houston Texans, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that the NFL is considering a proposal to make some of its game officials full-time employees.
Right now, all of officials are part-time employees, with most of them working regular jobs during the week and traveling to work games on the weekend.
''Consistency is exactly what every club wants, and I think every fan wants. You want consistency in the way rules are applied,'' Goodell said. ''We are contemplating this offseason taking some of those officials from the field who are now part time - they have other jobs - and making a certain number of them, let's say 10, full time.''
That’s all well and good, but I’m not sure how the second part follows from the first part. How will having 10 full-timers, who would spend the week reviewing game films at the league’s Park Avenue offices during the week and then be spread out among the crews for games, help make calls more consistent? There is zero evidence to support that notion. In fact, there is some evidence to the contrary.
Baseball umpires work full time out of necessity. Are their calls any more consistent than those of the NFL part-timers? If you think so, check out the strike zone game-to-game or even pitch-to-pitch. That is the very model of inconsistency.
And hoops refs are full timers as well. Can anyone find any consistency in the block-or-charge call? Didn’t think so.
Calls made in NFL games are not inconsistent because the men who blow the whistles spend their weeks at a law firm or working as a principal at an elementary school. The problems arise because they are trying to judge the actions of large, fast men over a playing field that is 120 yards long and 40 yards wide. Mistakes are inevitable. Replay can clean up many of those mistakes (although it failed yesterday, as noted below). But I fail to see how spreading 10 full-time officials among the 16 crews that work games each weekend would reduce mistakes.
What might improve the quality of officiating is the removal of officials who make multiple, obvious errors. Bill Leavy went under the hood yesterday an inexplicably ruled that Greg Jennings of the Packers had not fumbled before being down by contact even though he clearly did. No doubt, many Seattle Seahawks fans weren’t surprised. Leavy’s name is forever burned into their minds as they saw their team fall victim to several obvious Levy mistakes against the Steelers in Super Bowl XL. He owned up to it four years later saying, “I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game and as an official you never want to do that. It left me with a lot of sleepless nights and I think about it constantly. I’ll go to my grave wishing that I’d been better.”
Yet after admitting that he blew calls that impacted the outcome of the biggest game of them all, Leavy still gets postseason assignments. That he even works as a referee at all is puzzling. You’d think that in a country of over 300 million people we could find 120 or so of them who can competently officiate NFL football games, even on a part-time basis.