Take it easy on Referees

For as long as I have been watching sports, people have been complaining about officiating.

They have also been complaining about coaches, players and analysts. Complaining goes hand in hand with being a sports fan. But of all of those who have had scorn heaped upon them, the vitriol for officials and referees stands apart and above.

It seems for as long as there have been sports people have thought referees have been doing a bad job. From this, I can only draw the conclusion that it’s really hard to officiate sports at the highest levels.

Why are we so hard on officials? Everyone makes mistakes all the time in sports, but when it’s the refs who blow something it’s an outrage and something has to be done and we have to re write the rule books, etc.

Coaches who are paid exponentially more than officials screw up every single week. Whether it’s a game plan mistake or the more obvious and seemingly ever present game management blunders, every week these millionaires do something that defies belief.

Just this past week the Cowboys got the ball with a minute and change on Washington’s 10 yard line, in a tie game. The obvious game theory appropriate move was to kill the clock and kick a 99 percent field goal, leaving Washington 10 seconds and virtually zero win percentage. But instead Dallas scored with a minute left and Washington had time to come back and tie the game.

I’m not saying people didn’t criticize Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett for this – but it didn’t come close to reaching the level of derision heaped upon, say, the officials who screwed up the off sides call in the Clemson vs North Carolina game.

Players screw up all the time as well. Failure is a pretty big part of any sport and even the best of the best fail regularly. Some players are great, some are good, some are average, and some are terrible (relative to their competition). Why should it be any different for referees? Why do we expect them to be perfect automatons?

We employ selection bias as well.

You will often see a referee make an incredible call in real time where say a player just got a second toe dragged down before going out of bounds. A play that you had no idea which way it was going in real time, and they nailed it.  That play goes down the memory hole.

But when a ref blows a call that we all see so clearly in super slo mo replay, we lose our minds. That ref is either dirty or incompetent!

Maybe he is, either one is a possibility, but it’s also possible that when super fast strong and large athletes are moving at high speeds it’s easy to miss a call.

There is also the obvious bias of fandom.  Every call against your team is terrible, every call for your team is great.  Two fans can watch the same game and both come away convinced their team was screwed by the refs.

I think i know why it is that officials are so closely scrutinized by fans. Basically the job of a referee is to watch. Hey, that’s what we do!

Most of us can’t really fathom playing a sport professionally, or coaching, but just watching them play? How hard is that?

I think this is the root of most of the contempt for referees. We feel like we could do their job and do it better. We are spurred on in this belief by most play by play and color analysts who also apparently think they can do a better job than most refs because they treat most of the game as a forum for them to discuss whether they think every single call was right or wrong.

In recent years TV networks have employed expert referee consultants, who even with the benefit of multiple replays, manage to only be right about half the time or so.
Again, all this information suggests the job of officiating high level sports is incredibly difficult.  That is not to suggest we shouldn’t be looking at ways of improving officiating, whether it be through recruiting and training methods, salary, accountability, rule tweaks, transparency, etc, but maybe the next time a terrible pass interference is called we should just all shrug our shoulders and say, “Welp, that’s ok boss, you’ll get em next time.”