Fans and some coaches have been heard to yell to refs on occasion: “Call it both ways!” and “Let them play!”
As an official, however, I don’t recall ever hearing a fan or coach yell “Call it both ways,” after a call in their favor.
Another popular line is, “Let the players determine the outcome of the game.” You can interpret that as “Don’t blow your whistles so much.”
Officiating is an interesting avocation at the high school and small-college level. But whatever the level of competition, officiating is a challenge.
For example, it’s not unusual for fewer penalties to be called in an NFL playoff game than a regular-season game.
During the Green Bay and Tampa Bay playoff game in January, a Tampa Bay defensive back grabbed the receiver’s shoulder just enough to allow him to step in and intercept a pass, but there was no call.
Late in the game, Tom Brady threw an incomplete pass on third down that would have given the Packers one last chance with the ball, but an official correctly threw a flag for pass interference.
The play stood out because of the timing of the call, and because there had been very few penalties the entire game.
Do refs swallow their whistles in big games in order to let the players determine the outcome? Often the answer is yes, in spite of the number of penalties called in this year’s Super Bowl.
Former NFL official and supervisor Jim Daopoulos, for one, openly acknowledged his playoff mindset: “Let them play football.”
Diapoulos, who officiated Super Bowl XXXIII and was an ESPN analyst, added: “Just like the players and coaches, you’re on the biggest stage you’ve ever been on. It’s a time that requires more concentration than you’ve ever had before because of the implications. By the time you get to the Super Bowl, you go in with the mindset that you want to make sure it’s a foul.
“You want to make the big calls and not ‘Mickey Mouse’ these guys. Let them play football,” said Daopoulos.
That mindset also is true in basketball. In my experience, it was easier to “let them play,” and just make the obvious calls when the players were skilled and the game was well played.
But many other times “letting them play,’ can get officials in big trouble. The game can become way too physical.
After one of the ugliest high school boys basketball games I ever officiated, my veteran partner said to me, “Kleinsasser, the best thing about that game was the officiating, and that wasn’t too good.”
When games are played well, they are generally better officiated because there are fewer judgment calls to make. But there’s no guarantee a game will be played well, even in a state championship game.
One year I had the honor of officiating a 5A high school girls championship game, and my partner and I must have called some 50 fouls, and a technical foul or two. The game was not pretty. I doubt the players, coaches, or we officials looked good.
In the final seconds of a close game, officials want to make sure to make the right call if a call is to be made. No one wants to help determine the outcome of a game, which can lead to “swallowing your whistle.”
But I’ve always maintained that not blowing your whistle or making a call helps determine the outcome of a game just as much as blowing the whistle.
In a high school sub-state girls championship game, I called a foul at the buzzer in a tie game. I could have swallowed my whistle and “let the players decide the game” in overtime, but I believed the girl shooting the ball was clearly fouled. Passing on the call wouldn’t have been fair if it was a definite foul.
As it turned out, the girl who was fouled shot a free throw with no time on the clock to win the game. One team loved the call, and the other, not so much.
Ultimately, an official has to do what he or she thinks is right. No one said it would be easy.