The State of Officials

Officiating is a big part of every sport. Calls can change the outcome of a game or the momentum of a team. In America’s big three sports; baseball, basketball, and football, the officiating is very different. Needless to say the referees or umpires hold some weight when considering the outcome of a game. For the most part they make the right calls, but which league really has calling the game down pat.

Let’s start with baseball, more particularly the MLB, or the show as some would like to call it. Baseball is the most traditional sport we have in America. The rules have changed very little from it’s inception in 1869 with the leagues first team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. One of the most notable changes in the rules of recent years is the ability to review home runs via instant replay. Before that the biggest and most distinguishable rule adoption was the Designated Hitter (DH) by the American League, or Junior Circuit, in 1973. Replay is used in the NBA and NFL, but MLB was reluctant to add the use of replay because of baseball being so traditional. Bud Selig, however felt that it would not hinder the game but only aid in making the right call. That’s helping the officials make the right call when it may be hard to determine some 325-plus feet away.

In my opinion baseball does the best job of officiating out of the three sports. Ok so there are some blown calls here and there, but the umpires are only human and everybody, yes everybody makes mistakes. The most notable blown call of late came on June 2, 2010 where umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first base which would have cemented Armando Galarraga’s in baseball history by pitching a perfect game. Jim Joyce later, in tears, admitted he blew the call and apologized to Galarraga. At least he was man enough to admit he blew the call and clearly he did miss out on making the right one. Like I said before were all human and humans make mistakes. It happens. Had the call come in a game where someone was not pitching a perfect game I’m not so sure people would remember Jim Joyce for that call.

Baseball has the best officiating because it’s a slower paced game and therefore less likely to continuously make bad calls. The home plate umpire may be scrutinized by fans and even managers, but for the most part I’d have to applaud the job they do. Is it hard to tell exactly where a 98 mph fastball landed? Yea I’d say so. A 12-6 curve ball that makes even a hitter flinch could be hard for an umpire to see, but they do and they do it well. The main reason why I think that MLB does the best job is because they are consistent. Each umpire may have a different version of the strike zone, but they stick to that strike zone. Sure an outside pitch just off the plate may be called a strike. Some umpires are pitcher friendly while others are hitter friendly. When there are 2 strikes on the hitter maybe the pitcher gets a little more breathing in terms of the strike zone. Ever here the phrase protect the plate with 2 strikes? You shouldn’t be looking at close pitches in that situation. At the end of the day MLB umpires do a great job of calling a consistent and mostly justified game.

The NBA and NFL are probably the harder games to officiate with the fast-paced uptempo style of play. I will give the NBA referees a slight edge in difficulty of officiating. There are two factors that make me believe this and here’s why: It’s a fast-paced game in constant movement where referees have to run up and down the floor with the players for the full 48-minutes. Also, the league has been plagued by “flopping” and in real-time it may be hard to distinguish whether it was actually a foul or a player acting to get the call. This is a part of the game that I can’t stand and I think most would agree, especially when it’s pretty blatant. A smaller guard running into the paint with a forward or center in their way, then contact, the larger player falling to the ground, the foul call. I mean come on, that same player who flopped was getting bumped in the post on offense by a big defender and now he’s falling to the ground with slight contact from the smaller opposition.

My biggest gripe with the NBA officials is the lack of consistency. I fully and completely understand that it must be hard to run up and down the court with these athletes and make the right call every time, but at the same time at least call it the same both ways. Like most fans if there are two NBA games on I’ll surf between channels and watch both games. I remember watching one game with the score being fairly close and the game clock around 30 seconds. The team losing was trying to foul a simple touch of the player that received the inbound a foul call was made. Free throws. Flip to the other game almost an identical situation. This time though the defender repeatedly grabbed the other player before a foul call was made taking a good 3 seconds off the clock. A foul is a foul is a foul, no?

Then there is the superstar call. Hey, I get that rookies don’t have the same credibility that veteran players, particularly superstar caliber players have, but sometimes its just ridiculous. Thunder vs. Lakers 2010 playoffs. A defender falls down while guarding Kobe Bryant. Kobe pulls up hits the shot. A whistle. A foul call. Free throws. Wait what? Shout out to Bill Simmons for that one. Where was I? Foul really? His defender was on the floor how could he foul him? Kobe gets all the calls. I dislike Kobe for this reason and it’s not even his fault. I’m not a Kobe hater. I respect his game and can’t deny he is one of the greatest basketball players that I’ve ever seen and that ever lived. I’m not denying that, but when someone gets calls like that and he thinks he should get calls like that since he often wants the foul when he misses, I can’t stand it. On my own New York Knicks I often hear A’mare Stoudemire screaming, “AND 1!!!”, whenever he goes up in the paint. Come on guy that’s not gonna help your case. That’s right in line with flailing your arms and throwing your head back to draw the call. Let the ref do their job and next time you get fouled make the shot and the free throw, I think that’s way more productive than screaming and then slowly getting back on defense with your palms to the sky.

I don’t really have much to say with the NFL, except that they do a pretty good job particularly with all the new rule changes for player safety. They blow calls yea of course. They do a pretty good job thought officiating especially in the playoffs. A lot of no-calls go a long way in the playoffs. More is at stake and it’s a physical game, so I’m glad they let them play. For the most part they are consistent with their officiating, calling a past interference the same way for each team. Good no-calls in some cases. They almost always get false start and neutral zone infraction calls right. Yea there are some games where I say wow they just want the other team to lose. The recently headlining Saints and their whole “Bounty-Gate” scandal was started in their 2009 Super Bowl run. I remember watching the Saints vs. the Vikings in the NFC Championship game and saying wow they are really letting them play as more often than not Brett Favre was on his rear-end. A lot of no-calls in that game, but like I said before they call less penalties in the playoffs so you can’t really get stuck on that game. The thing that bothers me most and it’s not even the fault of the officials is that the league is so invested in protecting their players that it hinders the defensive side of the ball. You can’t hit the quarterback like you used too or you’ll get a fine. Hit a defenseless receiver, yea that’s another fine. Numbers don’t lie and that’s why this season saw 3 quarterbacks throw for over 5,000 yards. Eli manning was only 77 yards away from eclipsing that mark too. Only 2 players before this year have ever done that and Drew Brees was one of them along with Dan Marino. So for 3 players to do that this year is remarkable or is it? Yea it’s a real pass happy league now and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see 3 more people do again this year. Hey that’s not the officials that the rules and the officials are supposed to uphold the rules.

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