Opinion: Stop Blaming the Refs, Start Blaming the System


Nick Stavas, Editor in Chief

Anyone who watches football will know that correct and consistent officiating is a pipe dream in today’s game. The athletes that play football, college or pro, have become so prolific that the game moves at speeds that have never been seen before. Every part of football, and sports in general, has evolved to a level that is uncharted. There is a correlation between the evolution of athletes and the evolution of technology. As technology modernizes, sports do the same. However, there is one thing that has not changed since the game of football was first invented: referees.

Yes, the rules today compared to the rules in the 1970s are obviously different, but the people enforcing those rules are of the same demographic: 40-60 year old men that move at a slower pace than every player on the field. This causes calls to be missed, video reviews to be excruciatingly long and overall an unnecessary frustration for viewers. It has become a problem that is so evident it has become a disgrace to the game. Every other part of football has been updated to meet the current needs of the sport, except for those who govern the game itself: the referees.

Here’s an example. In Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game, the Philadelphia Eagles took on the Chicago Bears in an intense matchup that turned out to be an instant classic, coming down to a wild errant kick in the closing seconds. But before all the madness, I noticed a somewhat trivial but interesting play. Late in the second half, the Bears were running an up-tempo offense, moving the ball quickly down the field in order to score points before halftime. Bears receiver Taylor Gabriel caught a pass on an out-route, moving with lightning speed up the field and out to the sideline to gain space from the defender. Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky delivered a dart, completing the pass to Gabriel. While it just looked like a normal play in the eyes of the common viewer, the speed of the play caught my eye. I noticed the location of the ball, which was spotted at roughly the 45 yard line. It looked as if he went a few yards ahead of that, yet the referee did his best to place the ball where he saw fit.

With that said, the question I beg: if Taylor Gabriel, a receiver that runs a 4.39 second 40-yard dash (eighth fastest among current NFL players) catches a football, how does a referee standing nearly 10 yards behind the play know where to spot the ball? Some may be thinking, it’s just a few yards what’s the big deal? But any avid, or even casual football fan knows how much a couple yards can mean. And if those yards add up over the course of a game, the result can be changed drastically.

Over the past decade, we have seen exponential growth in the world of technology. You can unlock your iPhone with your fingerprint and there’s a Tesla convertible floating in outer space. At this point, new, incredible technology doesn’t even surprise us anymore. So in a day and age where where nanorobots are used to fight cancer cells, why is it that sports has yet to catch up to the rest of the technology universe?  It seems as if more and more things are becoming automated and computerized in an effort to combat human fallacies. Why must sports rely on the error-prone human eye to determine outcomes that could be solved in half the time with the right technology? The league has the money, so make it happen.

Here’s my solution. There’s no reason to have seven referees on the field in pro football. In Saturday night’s Seahawks-Cowboys game on FOX, Joe Buck mentioned that there are over 50 cameras set up throughout the field. With all the camera angles already in the game, why do we need extra bodies on the playing field? Instead, have six officials in the booth, each with a monitor in front of them, watching one specific zone. Whether it be the offensive line, quarterback, receivers, or defensive backs, every ref is watching just one piece. Every time there’s a penalty in one’s given “zone,” the respective referee communicates quickly with the official on the field and a penalty is announced.

In addition to penalties, there can be a ref in the booth whose job is simply to tell the field judge exactly where to spot the ball. It would not only streamline the game, but remove the vast majority of calls that cause fans to boo and hiss. This wouldn’t entirely abolish the issue, because it’s still people making the calls, and people make mistakes. However, this solution could not only eliminate long, painful reviews, but make the game more enjoyable for fans.

There are simple fixes to making the game of football better as a whole, and unfortunately it seems as if the NFL and NCAA are always one step behind where everyone wants them to be. Whether it’s not being up on today’s technology, or an official being literally one step behind where the ball should be spotted, the game of football is struggling to find consistency with its officials. It’s time to stop blaming the 51 year old man trying to run with world-class athletes, and it’s time to start blaming the flawed and outdated system that has caused football fans to get complacent with incorrect calls.