Rick Gosselin offers up a solution for NFL officiating woes
Like NFL players, the goal for NFL officials each season is to make the playoffs.
Like NFL players, there is financial incentive for officials to make the playoffs. The more games you work, logically, the more money you make.
Like NFL players, NFL officials qualify for the playoffs based on their performance on the field. Players, though, are judged by the scoreboard. The officials are judged by the NFL office in New York.
There are 17 officiating crews in the NFL with seven on-the-field officials in each crew. NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron and his staff grade each call by each official each week. Officials are judged by the flags they throw and those they don’t throw. Those who score the highest in Riveron’s grading system are rewarded with playoff assignments.
The season-long crews are broken up for the playoffs and mixed crews of the highest-graded officials are created. Logically, officials don’t want to be graded down for missing a call so, when in doubt, throw a flag. And it’s been Flags ‘R Us in the NFL this season.
Through six weeks of the 2018 season, officials were calling an average of 13.7 penalties for 116.4 yards per game. Through six games this season, the penalties and yards are both up – 14.9 penalties per game for 124.5 yards.
As troublesome as the quantity of calls has been the inconsistency of calls from one crew to the next. The Jerome Boger crew is assessing an average of 11.8 penalties for 100.4 yards per game. The Alex Kemp crew is assessing an average of 18.0 penalties for 143.8 yards. The Kemp crew has called more penalties (63) for more yards (863) against the road teams alone this season than the Boger crew has called against both teams in all games – 59 penalties for 502 yards.
I’ve got a solution for the problem. Take the post-season fate of the officials out of the hands of Park Avenue and put it in the hands of the men whose careers are impacted by those calls and flags – the NFL head coaches and general managers. Let them vote on the crews that advance to the playoffs.
First off, it would foster a better relationship on the field between head coaches and referees. If you are beholden to someone, you will provide better answers to that someone as to what happened on a play and why a call was made. Referees would be held accountable by those involved in the game, not those observing in New York hundreds or thousands of miles away. Logically, there would be better communication between the sideline and those wearing the striped shirts.
Secondly, it should reduce the number of flags. I’ve always said, the fewer the flags, the better the game. Arguably, you can throw a flag during every play of every NFL game. But it doesn’t mean you have to. Coaches and general managers are more concerned about getting calls right – the plays that impact games – than the quantity of calls. So there would no longer be a premium on those flags away-from-the-ball calls that do not impact a play.
Have the coaches and GMs cast their votes after the 15th game of the season and elect to send entire existing crews, not individuals. This isn’t the Pro Bowl of officiating – an NFL championship is at stake here. Keep the best officiating crews together. Coaches and general managers would elect the crews that they believe to be fair. Isn’t that what players, coaches, fans and the NFL all want in games – fairness?
It’s the quality of calls that dictate fairness – not the quantity of calls.