How to Properly Complain About and Fix an Officiating Problem

Nathan Roholt FishWrap, FishWrap Archive

There are a few rules to complaining about officiating:

  • Do So Sparingly. There are varying timelines regarding how long people want to discuss a game’s officiating and its effect on the outcome, from those with zero tolerance on its discussion to those who will talk until they’re hoarse, but the one constant is that some point everyone will fatigue on that topic. Save it for situations where you are particularly aggrieved.
  • Save it for the Losses. Complaining about how you win is greedy. Your only potential opportunity for gaining sympathy is following a loss, because people can understand that it can be frustrating to lose in a manner that’s unfair and will listen. So feel free to complain about the lack of a pass interference call on the game’s crucial, final drive, even though you were only in that position because you spent the whole game benefiting from pick plays that weren’t called and you leverage the officials lack of audacity to enforce that rule. Your team lost, and that call might have been a part of that. Understandable.
  • Recognize the Difference Between Deciding an Outcome and Deciding a Win. A bad call can determine the outcome of a single play, and it is possible that specific play might determine an outcome of a game. However, that play is one of many over a 60 minute span, and the aggregate of those plays is the difference between winning and losing. A bad call can determine an outcome; in that college football operates on a binary system where the only result is either a win or a loss, but it rarely determines who deserves to win or lose.
Mark Helfrich discusses a call with an official.

Kevin Cline

Mark Helfrich discusses a call with an official.

With that, let me preface these concerns about the officiating from Thursday’s game by saying this: I am not addressing them because of some perception that Oregon deserved to win, only to have that victory snatched away from them by those with whistles. If anything, it was Oregon who was looking to steal the game from Arizona despite being outplayed for the majority of the contest.

I don’t want to insinuate bias or one-sidedness in the calls, although obviously the filter of my own bias is going to make the calls against Oregon the origin of my frustration. Most importantly, I don’t want to fixate on any individual calls (save for one, but for completely different reasons), because I recognize officials are humans, and nobody’s perfect and to expect otherwise is unrealistic.

Within that, here were the two biggest issues we saw from the officials on Thursday night:

1) The Lack of Interest in Reviewing Controversial Calls

Darren Carrington's reception, one of many plays officials demonstrated little effort in getting correct.

Craig Strobeck

Darren Carrington’s reception, one of many plays officials demonstrated little timeliness in trying to resolve.

As I mentioned above, officials are human, and humans make mistakes. As a writer, I have an editor, and the editor goes through and finds my mistakes and corrects them to create a better product.

Officiating is an incredibly difficult process, even for the very best. So it is fascinating that the Pac-12 officials, the ones who would most benefit from having a system in place to minimize their errors, are the ones who put the most effort into fighting that perception.

Over and over Thursday night, the officials took a significant amount of time to review close calls, or didn’t even bother to review them at all. For a conference whose officials have a much-maligned reputation, it would make sense to think they would want to minimize their errors as much as possible. Instead, judging by the recalcitrance of their actions, one could assume that, to them, it’s the correct call regardless, because they made it. That mindset of infallibility is careless and selfish, allowing the opportunity for the hard work of all those involved to potentially be negated by a crew’s arrogance and unwillingness to accept the human aspects of their job.

2) The Excessive Celebration Call

The action that set up THAT call.

Craig Strobeck

The action that set up THAT call.

The job of an official is to maximize the evenness of a game. The best officials are the ones who go unnoticed. Being noticed is what has gained Pac-12 officials their present infamy, so to see an official interject himself into a game in such a way as to decide its outcome on such a call is appalling. This wasn’t a situation where the official had to make a difficult call that could go either way (for example, fumble vs. non-fumble, touchdown vs. one-inch line), this was a hijacking of who controlled the game’s outcome, with the official injecting himself into a result that reduced the fairness of its participants’ actions. And while not the same circumstances, that it came just three days after the NFL’s own misstep in calling an excessive celebration penalty in a nationally televised game makes the official’s lack of discretion even more egregious.

After Thursday’s game, all the discussion around the game (even from the Arizona side) was not about the upset Arizona had just pulled off, or about Oregon’s loss, but about how a game’s outcome was decided by an official. Again.

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott

From Video

Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott

We’re reaching the point where this needs to start falling on Larry Scott. After “cleaning house” back in 2011, the Pac-12 has done little to curtail its reputation of having the worst officials in college football, and based on the jokes I read during the World Cup, arguably the worst in American sports. 18 months ago, the head of basketball officiating was investigated for bribing officials (a charge he later resigned over), and Larry Scott responded to the allegations by saying he shouldn’t be fired. Maybe Scott banked on the hope that the retirement of Jay Stricherz (aka Glasses Ref) would minimize the negative perception by removing the most visible figure of its infamous reputation. Instead, the controversies continue to be myriad and constant.

The Pac-12 has never been more balanced and its teams have never been this good on the whole. Yet whenever there’s a discussion about Pac-12 games on a national level, it is most frequently because of its infamous officials. It’s like manufacturing a terrific product and then using a terrible shipping company to deliver it. There’s no point in elevating the quality of that product if you can’t deliver it unblemished.

Larry Scott always talks about being an innovator, being on the cutting edge of where college football can go. He should consider being a leader in this: Be the first conference to put transparency in your officiating. Acknowledge the human aspect of it, and work with them to make it better each week. Empower your officials to manage the game from a big picture perspective instead of micromanaging every call. And when one of your officials makes a mistake, acknowledge and apologize instead of trying to strong-arm one of your member schools into ignoring it. If he wants to be an innovator, he should avoid doing what everyone in college football would do, which is to ignore the problem. If he wants to be an innovator, he should try something radical: fixing the problem.

Top image by Craig Strobeck.

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