What Should the NFL Do About Referees?

A sad reality in sports is that often times the result comes down to mere luck. As much as we want to think that the better opponent always wins out, fate sometimes has different plans. Often times, the biggest factor deciding a game can come down to the officials. Being a referee is a difficult task to fill and many calls can be up to interpretation. However, the missed pass interference call against the Saints during the NFC Championship on Sunday had nothing to do with luck and it highlights a growing issue around the league: poor officiating.  

Now let me be clear, bad calls are nothing new to the NFL or sports in general. Referees are humans and they make mistakes just like players and coaches. Some say the element of human error makes the game more authentic. However, I am having a tough time believing that what happened to the Saints on Sunday was just a mistake.  

With just under two minutes in the game Saints wide receiver Tommy Lee Lewis was going out for a pass when he got absolutely leveled by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. It was arguably the most blatant example of pass interference I had ever seen. There was a generous amount of contact far before the ball had reached the receiver. Not only was it PI, but it was also very clear helmet to helmet contact.  

I understand missed calls. I have seen them many times before and they are simply just a part of the game. But this missed call just seemed too outrageous to be true. It was at the end of one of the most important games of the year, when all of the football world had their eyes glued to the TV. There was very little room for error. Yet, despite having two refs right in front of the play, they still missed what should have been an easy call.  

Now, I don’t think this game was rigged. To be fair referees tend to allow more wiggle room for contact late in the game, especially in a tightly contested playoff game. If you think the outrage over this non-call is bad, it would be ten times worse if they had called PI when it wasn’t warranted. I think this was a clear example of the refs not wanting to have too much influence over the game. I can respect that sentiment, but that does not excuse such an easy missed call, that may have cost a legend like Drew Brees his last ever chance to win another Super Bowl.  

From an Observer’s standpoint, this is probably the worst officiated season I have seen since I started watching football. The blame does not fall entirely on the referees as several new rule changes implemented before the season made the early season officiating a complete disaster. The outrageous roughing the passer rule was creating loads of controversy early on, although I personally believed the refs got better with this rule as the year went on. Regardless, I saw  some seriously horribly officiated games this year. This dilemma raises the question of whether there should be punishments for refs making bad calls and if there are what should they be?  

NFL Referees can make a yearly salary ranging from $78,000 to $550,000. That ranges from a difficult wage to live on in some areas to being borderline-rich. These numbers were actually much higher than I was originally expecting. So based on these numbers, it doesn’t seem like raising salaries will fix anything. If real change is going to come referees must be given more incentives, but also more punishments. There is not doubt in my mind that the referees from the NFC Championship deserve some sort of punishment. Whether it be a suspension or a fine, something needs to happen to them to show there is little room for error in these big moments.  

Punishing these refs won’t make everything right again. Saints fans will have to live out the rest of their lives wondering what could have been this year. This is a complex issue with many factors at play. However, I think it is pretty clear that the NFL has to start holding its referees more accountable. They hold a crucial role that can decide games and something needs to happen to ensure they use their best judgement. That is not to say we’ll never see a bad call again, but hopefully it can spark a change where teams don’t lose out on the Super Bowl because of the refs.  

-Jake Hornyak

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