Friday, November 16, 2007

Neutering the Backjudge (how to fix football officaiting)

Once again football officiating is called into question. Yahoo sports choose to worry more about the money in their article. But to me the bigger thing is the overall incompetence that officials show at all levels of football. The Big-10 has been notorious for years for having poor officiating crews with questionable calls at key times. While I don't recall any egregious calls during the Ohio St. v. Illinois upset, I'm sure THEO fans may be able to find something.

In the NFL there every couple years there is an outcry that the NFL should hire the officials full time so that they can concentrate on football. I'm not even sure how NCAA conferences hire their officials. But I do have an idea on how to fix this whole mess.

Officials should all be put into their own "league" the OFL. That's right, all football officials from college through the pros should be put into 1 pool. Then they are put on "teams" for the season and assigned games by the OFL league office. Not by the NFL, Not by the Big-10, not by the Patriot League. Based on your performance level you are assigned a division for the year and are trained for success at that level. Think of it like baseball's minor league system. NFL=the Bigs, D1 = AAA, D2 = AA and D3 = A.

Then comes the tough part. Grading the officials. As it stands now the NFL grades their guys and comes on the NFL network every week to explain how the bad call was actually the right call. NCAA conferences hand out their grades using paddles, and hooded robes like something out of Animal house (or maybe not, the article above says if you do bad you get the conference’s biggest game.) Grading under the OFL system becomes very public. As the top teams advance to the playoffs in the NFL and the BCS bowls in college, while the bottom teams are demoted to a lower league for the following season.

If say a back judge is outperforming his team’s level, the OFL would have the latitude to move call him up to replace a back judge that is underperforming. Or say a side judge on a team who is being demoted had a great individual year; the OFL could move him onto another same-level team.

Then there comes the question of guys who don’t want to move from the college game to the pro game. Due to the fact that there are so many college games, this actually shouldn’t be a problem. As for guys at the pro-level who don’t want to accept a demotion, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Pro sports is unforgiving to guys who can no longer produce, so is the OFL.

Who pays for the OFL, officials don’t sell tickets or get TV contracts. The NFL and NCAA would pay the league every year for using the league officials. This would in the short run cost the NFL and NCAA more as running a separate officials league would entail more overhead. However this would be offset as they would no longer be running their own official reviews, and it would help maintain the integrity of the game, which in the long run keeps the league stronger. In a perfect world the OFL would be self-sustaining so that the NFL and NCAA would not be paying the OFL and the league would be truly independent, but until officials start selling tickets, that isn’t going to happen.

Will this be a cure-all that eliminated bad calls? No, but it will remove the perception from fans minds that the leagues assign crews based on desired outcomes or that crews can use their bias against a team to influence the outcome of a game. Officials, like players, would be “playing” each game to ensure they keep their job, a bad called game could be the difference in getting paid at the pro-level and finding yourself working in front of 5,000 fans on a Saturday afternoon in east bumbfuck Kentucky.

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