The NFL needs fewer officials, not more

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
(Photo courtesy of Minnesota Vikings)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

So now the NFL wants to add an eighth official, someone to watch over the quarterback, yellow flag in hand, ready to smite any defender who dares make contact with one of the league’s highest-paid employees.

Ladies and gentlemen, the NFL is headed in the wrong direction here.

I’m all for subtracting officials from the field, not adding them. The fewer the flags, the better the game. And the fewer the officials, the fewer the flags. The tens of thousands in the stands each week and the millions more watching at home on television want to see Tom Brady, Ezekiel Elliott, Julio Jones, Von Miller and Richard Sherman perform their gridiron magic – not Ed Hochuli, Terry McAulay and Jerome Boger announcing yet another ticky-tack foul. The best officials are the invisible ones.

All the flags and all the officiating huddles that have slowed down what was once a great game are now contributing, I believe, to the decline in interest and viewership in the NFL. How can any enjoyment be derived when the McAulay crew is assessing 23 penalties for 200 yards in a single game against the Oakland Raiders? Or when the Brad Allen crew is assessing 29 penalties and marching off 221 yards in a single game between Detroit and Tennessee?

Each of the seven officials assigned to an NFL game is graded on his performance that Sunday. They get passing grades when they make the right calls and graded down when they miss calls. At the end of the year, NFL officiating czar Dean Blandino awards playoff assignments to the officials who graded out the highest at their respective positions. All-star crews are then assembled for the post-season.

So how does one become an officiating “all star?” Don’t miss any calls. Throw your flag.

That’s led to a greater emphasis on officials injecting themselves into the game. This season, there has been an average of 14.2 penalties for 122.4 yards per game. That’s up from the 13.8 penalties and 117.3 yards in 2015 — and way up from the 12.1 penalties and 101.7 yards per game in 2010.

This season, the Allen crew has called an NFL-high 141 penalties for an assessment of 1,159 yards in eight games. The Pete Morelli crew has flagged 83 penalties for an assessment of 748 yards in the same number of games. How can two crews watching the same players and the same teams in the same buildings on the same day each week see such different games? How can there be a 58-penalty, 411-yard difference between the two crews?

There’s a lack of consistency that confounds and frustrates NFL coaches and players.

I never felt the need for full-time officials. But I’m warming up to that idea.

There are 123 NFL officials. If I were commissioner Roger Goodell, I’d hire them full-time and base them in a centrally-located town with major airport access (logically, Chicago or Dallas), which would make it easy for them to fly out to either coast for the games that weekend. Then every week during the season I’d bring them all back to the classroom for day-long sessions Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I’d have all the officials watch all the games together and discuss what is – and what isn’t – a penalty. Discuss what should – and shouldn’t – be called. Review and critique en masse every flag that was thrown that weekend.

Somehow, some way, the NFL needs to get these crews on the same page and develop some consistency in the calls. Right now, this game isn’t a whole lot of fun for the coaches, the players or the fans. More officials and more flags aren’t going to make it better.

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