Our Opinion: NFL needs to alter playoff officiating

Published 9:47 am Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mike Pereira, the former head of NFL officiating who now analyzes controversial calls for Fox Sports, is right.

The present system has officiating crews working together for 19 games — four preseason games and 15 of the 16 regular season games. They are judged weekly, then the best officials are reassembled into new crews for the playoffs.

The system is in place as a result of the collective bargaining agreement in place between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association.

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“It sounds rude to say but I don’t care about the best officials; I care about the best officiating,” Pereira said in a Washington Post story. “Think about it, the best teams advance to the playoffs. I think the best teams of officials should be in the playoffs.”

What happens is these all-star officiating crews end up bringing together people who are unfamiliar with working together. Errors ensue. And playoff games get distracted by the officiating, rather than the on-field action. Then fans start crying conspiracy.

Such was the case during the wildcard game earlier this month between the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys. A back judge threw a flag for pass interference, which would have greatly aided the likelihood that the Lions would win. Detroit has gone 24 years without a playoff victory. The head referee announced the penalty to the stadium crowd and TV audience. Another official began to spot the ball down field.

Suddenly, line judge Jerry Bergman steps in to overrule the entire call — a call that just about anyone who wasn’t a Cowboys fan clearly felt was a textbook example of pass interference. For example, former St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner tweeted: “How do u pick up that flag?????”

As with many matters, it comes down to human personalities. The sports website Uproxx along with AOL Sports say Bergman has a history of intimidating other refs. In the video footage, it’s clear he looks angry and aggressive in pushing his case to the other officials to pick up the flag. And so they do. End result: That’s how a single line judge can overrule all the others and blow a call, leaving every living room in America wondering what just happened. They felt intimidated.

What’s more, the refs were so lost in the big moment that they failed to call a penalty on Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant for walking onto the field to holler at the refs.

That wouldn’t have happened with a crew that had worked 19 games together. Pecking orders already would be in place. Hopefully, that pecking order would have the head ref in charge.

Something needs to be done. You’d think the league would have learned pieced-together officiating crews are unsuccessful after the Super Bowl in 2006 when the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks thanks in part to well-documented officiating blunders.

When the refs and the league were at a labor impasse two years ago, the fans pushed the league to get an agreement in place so the calls would improve. The fans helped the refs. We hope the NFL Referees Association can oblige the fans by altering the collective bargaining agreement swiftly so that next year, officiating crews advance to the playoffs, not these mishmash groupings of refs.