By Sophia Lipp
Photos by Camilla Stejskal and courtesy of FOX Sports
It's Sept. 24, 2012. The Seahawks and Packers are playing a nail-biter in Seattle, and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson launches a hail Mary down the field. After a scuffle in the end zone, one referee calls it an interception while the other raises his hands for a touchdown. The play is ruled in Seattle’s favor, and the game goes down as a Seahawks win. However, NFL fans are outraged, calling this famous Russell Wilson play the “fail Mary.” Why? Because the refs got it wrong—and it cost the Packers a well deserved win.
This is not a rare occurrence. NFL coaches and players are constantly complaining about biased and inaccurate calls from refs, but this season hits an all-time high of unhappy teams. After the Patriots lost to the Broncos, Patriots fans (and Tom Brady himself) blamed the refs for a pass interference call on tight end Rob Gronkowski for what would have been a game-changing first down completion.
Other players have voiced their anger at the referees this season as well, including San Francisco 49ers guard Alex Boone. When the 49ers were defeated by the Arizona Cardinals this past November, fans, coaches and players were left shaking their heads at some of the refs’ calls.
“Those refs sucked,” said Boone. “[They] called running into a player when nobody even touched you. That’s what I’m sick [of] in this league. This is supposed to be a man’s game. Be a man.”
Players and coaches are also not worried about getting fined by the league anymore for speaking out against refs, says Boone “I don’t care what the league or Roger Goodell says. It’s the truth: [the refs] have terrible calls.”
The NFL responded to the San Francisco/Arizona game complaints by making some referee reassignments for the next week as a form of punishment, but many think that there needs to be some more serious changes to see any real improvement. Coaches are beginning to follow Bill Belichick’s lead and challenge everything that the refs call, but even then coaches are still only permitted two challenges a game.
“The way that I see it, they have two options,” said Nick Neville (COM ’18). “They can either do what the NHL does and send all their reviewable film to a team in Toronto as a final say, or they can make being an official a full-time job like some other other leagues. That way, the refs not only have more incentive because of higher pay, but can also use the whole off-season to review film and learn from their past mistakes.”
An NFL lines-man’s starting salary is around $75,000 a year, while a starting salary for an MLB umpire is around $120,000. The difference is that an MLB umpire is a full-time job, as it includes a six-month long regular season, post-season, spring training and All-Star games. Being an NFL official is only a part time job even with playoffs, and many NFL refs have other primary careers, such as lawyers, entrepreneurs or even high school teachers. Even so, MLB umpires still make many mistakes, and MLB fans are just as quick to criticize an ump’s strike zones as NFL fans are to criticize what’s really a catch.
The new rules implemented by the NHL involving goal reviewing, centralized replay and challenges seem to be working well for the league, and there have been some indicators that both the NFL and MLB are heading in that direction. Mike Murphy, senior Vice President of hockey operations, said, “One thing that a central location does is bring consistency to your calls, so the call you get tonight is probably going to be the same as the call tomorrow night or the next night because it's the same people doing it.”
Whether or not the NFL actually decides to implement these changes to their officials is unanswered, but hopefully with steps in the right direction, controversies surrounding NFL officials will halt in the 2016-17 NFL season.