Carney Column: NFL has a major officiating problem on its hands
This isn’t going to be a column from a disgruntled Saints or Chiefs fan complaining about calls the affected championship weekend, and this certainly isn’t going to be a column from a Steelers fan complaining about a number of blown calls down the stretch in the regular season that helped knock the Steelers out of playoff contention.
No, what this column is, is a reflection on the biggest problem the NFL has on its hands. It’s not about the concussion issues the league still fights to this day, and it darn sure isn’t about some blowhard in office stirring up his base to “boycott” the league over a player taking a knee. No, the league has a much, much bigger problem at hand: officiating that is below standard and has clearly affected a number of games this season, including two of the biggest games of the year, which came on Sunday in the NFC and AFC Championship games.
I’m sure you’ve seen it by now: the worst no-call in the history of football, or so some say. Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickel Robey-Coleman purposely blasted Saints receiver Tommie Lee Lewis well before the ball arrived on 3rd and 2, getting away with an obvious pass interference call that forced the Saints to settle for a field goal late in regulation in an eventual 26-23 loss in overtime, instead of giving the Saints an automatic first down and the chance to run out the clock before kicking the game-winning field goal.
Sure, some calls get missed throughout games at any level, but to have an NFL official standing right there on Sunday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans and not call an obvious pass interference is downright awful. I get not wanting to make a call late in game that can affect the outcome, but to not make that call there is egregious and should result in that official never working a game in the NFL again. We saw an official earlier this year get fired for missing a false start in a regular season game between the Browns and Chargers that resulted in a touchdown for Los Angeles. Why should the ref from the NFC Championship game get treatment that differs?
Aside from that missed call, some calls in the Patriots-Chiefs game were puzzling as well, like the phantom roughing the passer call on Tom Brady late in the game that resulted in the Patriots getting a second chance on an eventual touchdown drive, or the neutral zone infraction on the Chiefs on what should have been the game-clinching interception for Kansas City. That flag came out super late and obviously gave the Patriots second life again.
I know first-hand how hard officiating in most sports can be. I was a Little League umpire for three years during my college days and absolutely despised it. It’s not a fun job whatsoever, especially in today’s day and age if you’re officiating high school sports. I know I’ve been overly critical at times, and sometimes it’s not fair, but criticizing paid officials at the highest level of sports is open game. There’s no way those crews should work a playoff game next year, especially the crew that did Rams-Saints.
With officiating becoming such a massive problem for football’s highest level, maybe it’s time for the NFL to hire full-time officials, forcing them to work on their craft year-round, rather than trying to balance officiating with another full-time job to help make ends meet.
When the outcome of games are affected by calls and non-calls of this magnitude, it’s time for the league to look at the problem and try to rectify it.
Instead of talking about two great games with elite-level players on both sides after Championship Sunday, we’re talking about a couple of blown calls that played a major factor in the outcome of both games. Likely, that’s all the talk will be about leading up to the Super Bowl between the Rams and Patriots, rather than two incredible teams battling it out for the history books.
That’s the real shame in all of this. That’s a major problem for the league, and one they’ll need to fix fast.