The Confidential

The ACC Sports Blog

Those Darn Refs

30+ years ago, George Brett takes issue with a call by an official.

This author has been following sports for about 40 years now.  The officials have always been a subject of controversy in sports.  Here is one opinion on the 10 worst calls in officiating.  Few are recent.  Most of these go back to an era before instant replay, before sports blogs, and before Twitter.  Now, as noted by Pat Forde (who this author does not generally agree with): “Twitter, message boards and call-in shows are veritable forest fires of ref-bashing both during and after games.”  This is true.  If you follow Twitter feeds for two fan bases during a game, you would come to a conclusion that the refs of <insert league> are incompetent and biased in favor of <insert opponent>.  Nobody loses anymore, they lose to the opponent and a bunch of bribed, incompetent, script-following officials.  Obviously, this is not true.  But respected and successful blogger Sean Keeley (Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician) tweeted a good point:

Re: coaches not respecting referees. Referees should be treated like coaches then and have to face media after games. Level the field.

One of the things that is frustrating is that coaches have to answer to the media after a loss.  This can involve judgment calls–why did you call that timeout, why did you not call that timeout, why not play a backup, etc.  In general, officials do not.  And when Jim Joyce cost the Detroit Tigers’ Andres Gallaraga a no-hitter, his tearful admission of error and apology was, somehow, comforting enough to make it a non-issue.  Human beings, for all their faults, are able to forgive someone who admits an error and is sincerely contrite.  Are we at a point where there is so much media (formal and social) that officials should want to be in front of the media for their own sake?

We are what we are.  Before the Red Sox won their 2004 World Series, their last world series championship was not only not televised, it was not even on the radio.  That is how far media has come in the sports world.  Now, nearly every game is televised.  That means it can be recorded and converted and analyzed in slow-motion.  People share their immediate opinions on Twitter and blogs before the first instant replay is shown on TV.  What fan among us has not been aghast at a call, only to see it in slow motion instant replay and admit that the refs got it right after all?  How often is the officiating decent when you watch a game you do not care about?  Almost always.

With all this attention, officiating remains in the background.  These officials wear funny uniforms–often stripes.  There are no names, just numbers (sometimes).  Sure, the TV will give us their names in the beginning, but it is meaningless.  They are supposed to be interchangeable, if not robotic.  (Refbots are not here… yet).  They are de-humanized by the leagues that hire them.  Often, the officials that the fans hate most are the ones that the coaches respect the most.  That is because they will make the call against the home team–even if 10 to 100,000 fans will be booing the call.  That takes a lot of courage–perhaps more courage than it takes to simply show up and play.

Why not let the officials confront the media?  It may be countless press conferences of… “It looked like a charge from my angle.”  So what?  There are countless press conferences of coaches providing the same cliches and vague garbage.  Humanize the officials.

In fact, with all the criticism of officials, why are there not statistics and commentary on officials?  The website breaks down every game and analyzes each play.  See the example link.  One would think that somebody out there has enough time to do that for the pro leagues and major college sports.  How many truly bad calls are there?  How many missed calls right in front of the official?  There is lipspeak about leagues rating their officials, why not make that information public?  Even if there are stats showing that officials “miss” a certain number of calls, the transparency would assuage the concerns that everyone turns a blind eye to it.  Moreover, seeing officials improve over time would show that these guys that don the uniforms care as much as they players they are officiating.  And eventually the physical/mental decline that forces the Derek Jeters and Brett Favres to eventually retire might also force an official to decide to retire as well.  And perhaps those statistics would help weed out an official that truly does turn to the dark side (i.e. Tim Donaghy).

It has been said that “power does not corrupt, immunity does.”  Well, to the fans, the officials are immune from criticism.  That leads to perceptions of corruption that undoubtedly do not exist.  The blogs and social media could be about plays and strategy.  You know, the things that make sports fun and entertaining.  The Confidential posits that having the officials respond to the media and have their performance ratings publicized would go along way toward focusing the energy of the coaches, fans, and players onto the actual games.

What do you think?


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