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Jones: NFL officials face impossible task — we or league must make change - FlagSpin

Jones: NFL officials face impossible task — we or league must make change

We shouldn’t have been talking about NFL officiating Sunday night and Monday morning.

We could have devoted our energies to discussing Packers quarterback Jordan Love’s apparent coming of age in the 27-19 upset of Patrick Mahomes and the world-champion Chiefs. We could have been talking about Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur’s masterful engineering of a season turnaround that has his 6-6 Packers squarely in the playoff hunt.

Instead, these were the emotions late Sunday night in the initial moments following the Packers’ win: confounded, befuddled and, at the same time, not at all surprised that the game officials had once again made themselves a major part of the story.

The multiple officiating blunders of the final minutes of the contest continued to dominate conversation Monday morning on the usual recap television, radio shows and podcasts. The hand-wringing spilled over into our group texts.

Sunday night represented what seems like a weekly reminder that the NFL, in this modern age, continues to have a flawed officiating system. And after it’s now painstakingly clear one of two things must happen:

1. We, the members of pro football’s captive audience, must accept that because human beings enforce the rules of our favorite sports league, imperfection and bad calls will always exist. Maybe acceptance will bring less angst. But it also will likely diminish enjoyment and product satisfaction.

2. Or … the NFL’s highest-ranking decision-makers must finally recognize they have the power to help remedy this longstanding problem, and that for the sake of the game’s credibility, they should utilize every resource available to ensure that officials have adequate support to avoid game-swaying botched calls.

Those are our two options, and the second one is the best.

Maybe then Packers safety Jonathan Owens wouldn’t have been called for hitting Mahomes late and out of bounds, a 15-yard penalty. Owens clearly hit Mahomes while he was still in bounds.

Maybe Packers defensive back Carrington Valentine wouldn’t have gotten away with a blatant pass interference call as he tackled Chiefs wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling before the ball arrived. That transgression, if properly assessed, would have moved the Chiefs in position for a touchdown that, with a successful two-point conversion, would have tied the game.

Packers CB Carrington Valentine defending Chiefs WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling on the controversial fourth-quarter play Sunday. (Todd Rosenberg / Getty Images)

Maybe officials wouldn’t have incorrectly stopped the clock with 19 seconds left, inaccurately stating that Valdez-Scantling got out of bounds when he clearly was wrapped up by Corey Ballentine and kept in the field of play.

Maybe an Owens shove of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in the end zone on Mahomes’ Hail Mary pass wouldn’t have been ignored and Kansas City would have received one more shot at a game-winner.

But instead, those calls and non-calls happened, and they hung a cloud over what should have been an impressive outcome regardless of which team prevailed.

Let’s get one thing straight before we progress, though.

Officiating is not at all easy. It’s insanely difficult. Ever tried refereeing a youth flag football, tackle football or even basketball game? Ever tried umpiring, whether behind the plate or on the bases? Trust me, it’s hard, regardless of how we may feel like we’re able to see what happens from our seats in the stands. And that’s just rec sports. Try the faster high school game. Or even faster college level. Making decisions in the pro game — played by world-class athletes and where the action takes place at break-neck speed — is 10 times harder.

We, the spectators, may feel like we can detect a grab or non-grab, or have the ability to accurately judge the timing of a hit. But let’s not forget that we often come to that conclusion because, almost instantly, production crews flash those slow-motion replays from every angle possible on our screens. It’s an entirely different beast compared to being close and having half of a second to make a decision. There’s no time to hesitate. Referees must make the call or not, and they must do so with confidence and then move on to the next play.

When you take into account the speed of the game, the size of the athletes and the split-second reaction time required, it’s a wonder officials get as many calls right as they do. So, should we at all react with surprise if a call is missed or inaccurately assessed?

Another fact to nail down. … We often hear, or even say, that referees must “be better.” I can assure you, the referees want to be perfect, not better. These men and women aren’t trying to blow calls. This isn’t laziness or crookedness. They want to get it right. As many a veteran official has told me, every referee would love to emerge from a game in a cloak of invisibility, because that means they either didn’t have to make any calls, or got every call right. However, every referee acknowledges that despite all of their studying and preparing, perfection is largely unattainable.

And that’s why the NFL should stop dragging its feet and employ some type of sky-judge system that ensures that the team in stripes gets it right.

It’s understandable why the NFL doesn’t want to give coaches the freedom to challenge every single play. And we often hear that implementing a system that reviews every single play would slow games down too much. But the XFL’s sky-judge system, which involves having an individual in the press box with access to video of every angle and the ability to overturn a play within 25 seconds, has shown that it’s possible to keep games moving while also ensuring the accuracy of calls.

There are ways to achieve the desired result.

Why not opt for a setup in which either an on-site replay official or an individual back at the NFL’s New York-based command center can promptly overturn any call made within the final four minutes of play to ensure erroneous calls don’t sway games?

Sure, the first 56 minutes of play would probably feature some missed calls. But this setup would provide officials with the best possible support, and it’s not replacing them. It’s just providing solid backing so they can make the call that they believe they are seeing, while also knowing that the eye in the sky has their back when the stakes are the highest.

Of course, there are layers and aspects to fine-tune, but this just makes too much sense.

The majority of the railing against the league and its referees would cease. The setup would lay to rest the debate (silly to some, but very real in the minds of others) over whether the NFL’s games are rigged. Officials would then receive an added layer of protection. Players and coaches, meanwhile, no longer would have to deal with the feeling they’re often battling both the opposing team and the referees. And hundreds of thousands of fans would experience lower blood pressure levels.

Would that arrangement also come with some annoyances? Probably. But they would pale in comparison with the blunders, embarrassments and frustrations currently endured by all parties involved.

(Top photo of Andy Reid: Peter Aiken / Getty Images)

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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