NFL officials have been awful, and that needs to change quickly.

Jake Ferrari, Reporter

This may be hard for some of us to believe, but right now the National Football League has a problem bigger than concussions, bigger than Deflategate and bigger than Greg Hardy and Ray Rice.


It’s the officiating.


Last Sunday night, the Patriots and the Broncos faced off in a much-anticipated matchup between two AFC powerhouses.  New England took a 21-7 lead into the 4th quarter, but a muffed punt by Chris Harper led to the wheels falling off for not only the Patriots, but for the referees as well.  


An egregious offensive pass interference call on tight end Rob Gronkowski prevented the Patriots from gaining a crucial third down conversion.  Later, quarterback Tom Brady heaved a 50 yard pass to Keshawn Martin, only to have it get called back on a weak holding flag.  On second down, and with the Broncos about to score a touchdown to put them in the lead, New England sacked Brock Osweiler, setting up a third and long.  Instead, a horrible pass interference was called on Patrick Chung, giving Denver a first down and allowing them to take the lead.


With each horrible call, my rage as someone who officiates baseball games grew and grew.  I was losing my mind watching the referees take a win away from my team.  Eventually, the Broncos won in overtime, and I felt sick, not only because we blew a 14 point lead, not only because Gronkowski went down with what looked like a catastrophic knee injury, but because of the awful job the officials did.  


A game like this should be talked about because of how close it was, or how the newcomer Osweiler led a late go-ahead drive, or how Brady, for the millionth time, drove his team down the field to tie the game in the waning seconds, or how it snowed for the entire primetime game.  Instead, poor refereeing once again cast a dark shadow over a phenomenal all around game.


All of this may seem like a sour Patriots fan whining, but putrid officiating has been a very noticeable theme across the NFL this season.  Every week, teams feel the wrath of poor refereeing. The NFL only plays 16 games, so in the end it could mean the difference between winning the Super Bowl or not, whether it be because of the standings or the playoff seeing (Instead of having home field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first round bye, the Patriots would be playing on Wild Card weekend with the possibility of facing a top-two seed if the season ended today).  Last week, the refs were so bad in the 49ers-Cardinals game that they were pulled from their next game.  Earlier in the season, referee-controlled clock issues plagued Monday Night Football for consecutive weeks.  On Thursday, a phantom facemask call against the Lions led to a last second hail mary win for the Packers.


Officiating has always been controversial across all sports, but football referees are always in the spotlight.  In 2012, the NFL had to hire replacement referees because the real officials went on strike.  They were so bad, the NFL caved in and gave the actual referees what they wanted.  Now, fans are calling for the replacement refs return.


As an umpire, I understand that mistakes are unavoidable.  However, the league needs to draw a line, because the mistakes are adding up and making the league look bad.  When I mess up, I feel bad, but try to focus up and improve myself.  These officials seem to be indifferent towards caring about calling a good game.  There aren’t any refs that can be singled out; it has been a collectively bad effort by all of them.
So what is the solution, if there is one?  One is hiring people who actually want to be referees, not just lawyers and teachers who want something fun to do on Sundays.  Another is sending them back to referee classes, making sure they know every rule in the book.  A simpler option might be to shuffle the refereeing lineups, so the same bad teams won’t be together.  For example, one team of referees (they generally stay together for a whole season) might call more holding penalties than other groups of referees.  Changing the lineups would solve this.   Regardless, refereeing is ruining the game I love, and it needs to be fixed immediately.