An Official Change
The biggest de facto American holiday is quickly approaching. Super Bowl Sunday XLIV will surely rival previous years in terms of massive television viewership and food consumption. In every aspect, the Super Bowl strives to achieve perfection: the best halftime show, the best commercials, and the two best football teams. The success of the Super Bowl is a testament to how popular professional football has become within society. It is impossible to avoid the ceremony surrounding this favorite American pastime, and professional football has more fans than any other sport. But in spite of these successes, there is one distinct feature of professional football that has room for improvement and has yet to be addressed.
Currently, the National Football League is the only major professional sport organization that doesn’t pay its officials a salary. Officials are part-time employees with regular nine-to-five jobs during the week. However, with professional football being as popular as it is, it is time for the officials to become full-time employees of the NFL.
The reason why the NFL should change their policy on officials is the height of the stakes of each game. Consider this: the average NFL team is worth $957 million, the Dallas Cowboys being the highest at $1.5 billion. That is an enormous investment by the teams’ owners and other investors. In addition, the three major networks each pay an average of two billion dollars a year to broadcast NFL games. With millions of dollars on the line for each game, teams, television networks, and NFL executives give their best effort to produce the best football possible. The officiating should be no exception. If referees were full-time, they could watch film, attend practices, and devote their energies exclusively to football, which would minimize bad calls and misrulings.
The upward trend in overturned calls with the instant replay feature demonstrates the necessity of such full-time officiating. In 1999, there were 133 challenges, and 42.8 percent of challenged calls were overturned, compared to 229 challenges in 2008, of which 51 percent were reversed. The increase in challenges shows a decrease in confidence in officiating, and the increase of the rate of reversal might also suggest an actual decrease in the quality of officiating due to the use of the instant reply as a crutch rather than a tool.
Additionally, the nature of the sport requires an official to keep up with the pace of the game. The NFL is a showcase of some of the best athletes in the United States, and a referee must remain in top physical condition to keep up with them. It is impossible to measure how many missed calls were the result of officials who were unable to keep up with the players. However, officials would certainly be better able to stay on top of their exercise if officiating were their full-time job rather than having to sit behind a desk for a week before being asked to officiate a professional football game.
Of course, one might ask what specific activities a full-time referee could engage in that a part-time referee could not. For one, in addition to watching film and attending meetings with other referees, full-time referees would have the time to attend practices of teams other than those that they would be officiating over the course of a week. This would allow officials to watch and participate in game-speed situations more than once a week. Professional football coach and long time advocate of the full-time referee, Bud Grant writes, in Always on Sunday, “They can use all the bright new technology, but none of that is going to make them a better official who calls more plays right unless he comes to practice and watches what’s happening at full speed.”
Though referees make most calls correctly, there are still many calls that have influenced post-season games that officials later admit were wrong. During the playoffs in 2006, did Troy Polamalu intercept Peyton Manning? Even with instant replays, the referees still got it wrong, as official Peter Morelli later admitted, though the ruling ultimately decided the outcome of that game. Also, many Seahawks fans can attest to there being inconsistent officiating even in the biggest of games, as Superbowl XL demonstrates. Granted, a full-time referee will also make bad calls from time to time, but it is in the best interest of the game to make those occurrences as infrequent as possible.
Peter L. Knudson ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Matthews Hall.