As most of you would agree, 2015 may have been the worst season of officiating to date. Nearly every game we were subjected to Rules Analysts such as Mike Carey providing their take on a controversial call. Most of the time, I found myself agreeing with their opinion, but more often than not the explanations proved to be in conflict with that of the on-field officials and subsequently the opposite call was made.
How do these former seasoned officials get the call so wrong, so often?
Well for one, the recent rule changes have been so vague that it’s largely up to the subjectivity of the referee viewing the replay, and the crews rarely seemed to be on the same page. While the rules haven’t been made much more specific, a change is coming for officials in 2016. All but one crew from last year will have at least one new member, and many have several changes.
Footballzebras.com obtained the preliminary officiating rosters for next season, and by looking through the list it is clear that the NFL is hoping a complete “makeover” will help alleviate the bevy of issues they saw in 2015. According to the site, there will be 3 new officials next year while 1 has retired. That being said, the remaining returners will be jumbled around to new crews. There are 17 crews and 1 crew of “swing” officials, which are basically the utility guys as they can officiate in multiple capacities. Crews are named by their head referee, also known as ”white hats.”
The majority of these crews are seeing at least three replacements on their squad. Pete Morelli’s group, for instance, is an entirely new one with 6 different officials being moved, while Walt Coleman’s crew has 5 different officials. Morelli, you may remember, led the crew in the Week 6 Steelers-Chargers game last year that was plagued with questions regarding the time clock. An NFL.com article displays the statement made by the NFL regarding an 18 second run-off that went unnoticed by grounds officials.
“Side judge Rob Vernatchi will not officiate in Week 6 as a result of the failure to notice that the game clock was incorrectly started late in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers,” the statement reads. “The mistake will also impact the evaluation of the other six members of the officiating crew, led by referee Pete Morelli.”
That wouldn’t be the only time Morelli’s crew was called out, however. They were fined after incorrectly letting Jacksonville kick a game winning field goal (Week 10) against Baltimore after time expired. These issues resulted in Morelli being removed from the Sunday Night Football game in Week 13 when the Steelers hosted the Colts. Most of these moves, I presume, are an attempt to mix the relatively young (or new) officials with the seasoned, experienced ones.
While I applaud the efforts to address the issues of seasons past, I can’t help but remain skeptical about the outcome. Surely, a greater mix of young and old would appear to be a helpful move, but one glaring issue still sits at the forefront of the problem: the rules cannot be objectively enforced. I can’t even begin to recall how often the NFL Referees Association had to appear on national television to correct the mishaps of a game the day before. That is a problem.
And while this jumbling around of crews could be a step, it’s just a step. The rules need to be adjusted and specified, especially when it comes to things like “what is a catch?” or “was that helmet to helmet intentional?” I could go on and on. I suppose we’ll see once the year begins whether or not this move proves to be a worthy one, but for now we’re left to wonder if this simply isn’t enough to stop the momentum of confusion that is on a downhill trend.