A wish for more consistency in sports officiating

What are the hardest calls to make for football and basketball officials?

Pass interference comes to mind, but I’m not sure that tops the list right now.

To me, the most confusing call in the NFL this season has been whether or not sacking the quarterback becomes a personal foul for unnecessary roughness. It appears that the call confuses coaches and players alike.

It’s laudable that the NFL wants to protect the quarterback as much as possible, but it’s easier said than done.

Obviously a hit to the head warrants a penalty, or pile driving the quarterback to the ground is unnecessarily rough, but hard contact isn’t always avoidable.

Some have suggested that the play should be able to be reviewed, like many other calls.

Meanwhile, I read that officiating basketball is incredibly difficult, in large part because so much is subjective. If you were to call games to the exact letter of the rule book, much of what makes the sport exciting would effectively disappear.

Some people think the most challenging call is whether to call blocking or charging when two players collide. From personal experience, I would also say that it is difficult to determine when to penalize a player for an illegal screen.

The speed of the game and the size and strength of the athletes are significant factors that make some calls more difficult than others.

The fact is, every sport has its officiating challenges. Replay has helped, but it also has interrupted the flow of games.

We all want to see correct calls made, especially late in close games, but when games are held up several minutes with little time left in regulation, both teams essentially get a free time-out while officials go to the monitor to review a play. On occasion, I’ve wondered if we weren’t better off in the old days when calls weren’t reviewed, and the game finished without multiple interruptions. Alas, that ship has sailed.

I appreciate the desire to get the calls right, but some calls are so close, even on replay, that at some point, someone just has to say, “The call stands,” or “The call is changed,” and let play resume. Perhaps there should be a time limit to review a play. If it takes more than one minute, maybe we should just live with the original call.

For what it’s worth, according to the Seton Hall Sports Poll, I read that Major League Baseball is perceived to have the best officiating among major spectator sports, beating the NFL by a 64% to 48% margin.

Despite seeing nearly half of all disputed calls reversed by video replay, Americans perceive the officiating of Major League Baseball better than any other major sport.

What’s truly remarkable in this day and age of polarization is that Democrats and Republicans are in agreement on whether officiating is good or terrible on a sport-by-sport basis.

“At last, something they can agree on,” noted Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll, which is sponsored by the Sharkey Institute within the Stillman School of Business.  “The differences were negligible in almost every case.”

The NBA had a 49 percent rating of “good” for its officiating; the NHL 44 percent; college basketball 48 percent, and college football 53 percent, all very close along party lines.

As a high school basketball official years ago, probably back in the 1980s, I attended a joint preseason meeting of officials and Ark Valley League coaches. The purpose was to review the rules of the game and points of emphasis and try to get on the same page as much as humanly possible. It was an admirable effort.

After reviewing the rules though, one coach said, “All we want is consistency in your calls.” That sounded like a fair enough request, right?

Well, one of the respected veteran officials got up, and in response, said: “You want consistency, We want consistency. Everyone wants consistency. The problem is, they aren’t always playing consistently out there.”

Even after all those years, the challenge is consistent.

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