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When Will Referees Be Held Accountable?

If I have said it once, I’ve said it a million times. Do not let the referees decide the outcome of a game. They’re simply just not very good at what they do. They are bad in every sport at an alarming rate. Yesterday was no different.

In SEC action, Kentucky and LSU were tied with six seconds remaining after two made free throws by Freshman Keldon Johnson made it 71-71. LSU inbounded the ball and raced down the court looking for the game winning bucket. The LSU guard got right to the rim where he was met by two Kentucky big men who challenged the high arching layup. The ball bounced around the rim and appeared to be on its way out. Overtime in the Bluegrass. That is until an LSU player tipped the ball in just before time expired. My initial reaction – goaltending, five more minutes of basketball.  To me, it wasn’t close, it wasn’t questionable. From my couch in New York City, watching on a fifty-inch television, with my Yorkie barking at absolutely nothing, I could clearly see the ball wasn’t just on the cylinder, half of it was still in the cylinder. No way professionals could miss that call just feet away. Boy, was I wrong.

It’s been rough sledding for officials. They have seemingly found new ways to be bad at their job on a regular basis. We all remember the ultimate “hold my beer moment” when the zebras missed the most egregious pass interference in the history of football in the NFC Championship game. On that play, there was no pushing or shoving from the receiver or cornerback which often times makes it tough for an official. Instead, Rams cornerback, Nickell Robey-Coleman, tackled Saint’s receiver Tommylee Lewis with the ball still in the air a good ten yards away. To make things worse, it was also a clear helmet-to-helmet personal foul on Robey-Coleman. He received a $26,000 fine after the game. Talk about adding insult to injury for New Orleans and their fans.

Later that night in the AFC title game between the Patriots and Chiefs, the stripes struck again when they prolonged a New England drive after Kansas City defensive lineman, Chris Jones, was flagged for roughing the passer. Replay would show Jones’ hand never touched quarterback Tom Brady’s face mask or helmet. The penalty resulted in a fresh set of downs for the Pats. The next play, Brady whipped an out to tight end Rob Gronkowski. The pass was incomplete. However, it wasn’t an errant throw or a drop. Instead, the incompletion is credited to the Chiefs defender who was riding Gronk’s back like he just paid a quarter to ride the mechanical pony at the fair. There was no flag for pass interference thrown.

How do you combat bad officiating? Easy, don’t allow them to be a factor. In Kentucky’s case, the LSU ball handler had the Kentucky defender turning in circle which allowed him a free run to the basket. The Cat’s also shot a dreadful 5-19 from behind the three-point line and missed seven free throws in addition to a terrible turnover by veteran Reid Travis after collecting an offensive rebound on what could have been the final play of regulation in a tied game if he doesn’t give it up.

In the NFC Championship game, Drew Brees threw an interception and the Saints coaching staff went away from star running back, Alvin Kamara, on offense who spent the early part of the game devastating the Rams defense. They also allowed Los Angeles punter, John Hekker, throw for a first down, and not a little three-yard pass, he threw a twelve-yard strike to the defended gunner.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about officiating is the fact they are not held to any standard. Athletes, both professional and amateur, are held accountable for their actions. If a player shows too much emotion after what they believe is a bad call, they’re hit with a technical or unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Verbalize your frustrations after a game in the media, they’re fined, suspended, or both.

What happens to the officiating crew that blew the pass interference call in the NFC title game, or the crew that could have very well have stolen a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament for Kentucky? Is it really a punishment to not have your crew summonsed for next year’s AFC or NFC Championship game? Do you lose sleep at night not getting to officiate a Final Four? I wouldn’t. I say hit ‘em where it hurts the most – the wallet.

According to money.com, the salary for an NFL official is set to rise to $201,000 sometime in 2019. In the NCAA, officials can make between $1,000 to $3,000 a game. Want to hold them accountable? Deduct payment for blown calls, not close calls that can go either way, but actual missed calls that professionals have no business missing. Or how about suspending the crew while they undergo a “officiating for dummies” course. Missed game means missed money.

Something has to be done. We don’t pay high prices for tickets, extra money at the bar for drinks, or change plans to be home just to watch the referees interject themselves into a game (I’m looking at you Ted Valentine). Fouls are fouls, travels are travels, goaltending is goaltending. As a wise man (Bill Belichick) once said: Do your job!

Written by John Seravalli

John Seravalli is a contributor to The Schpiel.

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