Could younger referees be the answer to the officiating crisis that has been plaguing the National Football League in recent years?
The question isn’t meant to imply that youth always trumps experience, but football is the fastest and most violent game of all of the major pro sports and an injection of new blood in the officiating ranks could prove to be beneficial for the game going forward and in crunch time.
The NFL has seen a new generation of players come into the league over the last two decades that are bigger, stronger and faster than ever seen before on such a large scale. The game itself have evolved as well since the institution of new rules that have prohibited some of the physicality that defenders are allowed to use at or around the line of scrimmage have created a pass-happy league.
The evolution and proliferation of so many high-flying offenses have led more plays through the air in which the duties of officials have expanded more as well. They are now tasked with keeping track of the world-class athletes all over the field and make quick judgment calls on any infractions they see or perceive to be a penalty.
A referee at the professional level is expected to possess extensive knowledge of the game and its rules so that they can call a fair and accurate game as an impartial party. For years the on-field officials have been individuals who have been referring games at the NFL level for decades.
There has been an implementation of women in the ranks of officials in recent years, but the vast majority of the biggest regular season and postseason games have been manned by officiating crews made up of old men. Nobody is calling into question the knowledge and experience of these men, but recent blunders in some of the biggest moments and most crucial situations in the last few years have called into question their ability to perform the tasks required of them adequately and accurately.
The blatant defensive pass interference and hit to a defenseless receiver penalties that Los Angeles Rams slot corner Nickel Robey-Coleman committed in last year’s NFC Championship game when blew up New Orleans Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis that was not called by either of the officials that were right in front of where the infraction had occurred may have been the final straw.
The play occurred in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter as the Saints were driving to put the game away. If either penalty had been called, the Saints would have been awarded an automatic first down and would have been able to run out the remainder of the clock to secure the victory and punch their ticket to their first Superbowl appearance in nearly a decade and just the second in franchise history.
The annual league meetings where every NFL owner and head coach congregate to propose, discuss and vote to either approve or dismiss the proposed rule changes that are drafted up by the league’s brightest and most innovative minds are happening this week, and the egregious no-call in the NFC Championship that has been a hot topic of debate ever since it happened and has sparked owners into action.
They just approved a new rule that will allow replay reviews for offensive and defensive pass interference and coaches will be able to challenge both calls and non-calls for offensive and defensive pass interference outside of two minutes as well. The rule also states that all reviews in the final two minutes of each half have to be initiated from upstairs and are not eligible for coaches to challenge.
On the set of NFL Live on Monday former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky who played 13 years in the league and is now an analyst for ESPN expressed that in his playing days, he and his teammates would come out during pregame warmups to not take a peek at their opponent but to see who was going to be on the officiating crew for the game.
“We used to walk out on the field and see some of the officials and be like what? That guy? This is the most quick and violent game that there is in major pro sports…The No.1 thing that goes as you get older is your reflexes and your reactions,” said Orlovsky.“We got men that are physically out of shape, that are getting older and asking them to see the most violent and quick moving game with the greatest size of players. It’s unfair to the officials.”
He believes that the officiating crews need to get younger, that they should be required to take an annual physical test to ensure that they are in good enough shape to keep up with the fast moving game and that they should be subjected to routine eye tests to make sure they aren’t visually impaired in a sport that is decided by inches and split seconds.
As a former player, he provides insight from a perspective that is usually overlooked but even though some fan believe that they live and die with their teams, the players that play the game have their lives riding on the decisions that these referees decide to call or not call.
His proposition could begin to pick up some traction because just like players on the back nine of their careers with diminishing skill sets, the same could be said for these aging officials who are struggling more and more. Father time is undefeated, unless your name is Tom Brady, and it may be time to put some of the more seasoned officials out to pasture in order to make room for the next generation in the same way that franchises decide to move on from aging players past their prime.