September 25, 2012

The Replacement Refs' Impossible Situation

Okay, so this picture is old and that's a legit NFL referee.  But I had forgotten about this and seeing Kenneth Darby get lit up by a ref made my day.
     If you're a fan of NFL football, or even just live within the United States, you know that the NFL's usual referees have been temporarily replaced while the refs and the league work out a new contract.  The replacement refs come from many different levels of experience ranging from high school games to lingerie football.  Yet these officials all have one thing in common.  Everybody thinks they're doing a terrible job.

     I'm not convinced of that though.  I think this situation is more about the Kobe Bryant factor than actual officiating.  You know how everyone thinks Kobe is "clutch", so when he makes a late basket we use that to reinforce our belief, and when he misses we disregard it since everybody misses at some point and that doesn't reflect who he is.  But when you look at the stats, Bryant is around the league average in late-game situations.  The replacement refs are in the same situation, but in reverse.  People expect the replacements to be terrible, so we focus on the mistakes that they make and don't notice the calls they get right.  There was no way they were ever going to be accepted by the general public, and that's not fair to them.  So to try to make it up to them a little bit, let me defend them against three of the main charges against them.

1.  They make the dumbest mistakes.

     I'll admit the new refs have made some gaffes that I would never expect the usual officials to make, like not knowing certain rules of the game.  But the replacements have taken some heat for judgement calls as well, many of which could have happened no matter who was in charge.  I know Ed Hochuli has been involved in one or two boneheaded decisions.  Super Bowl XL involved the best referees in the game and is still regarded as one of the worst officiated games ever.  Fans aren't going to be any happier with the normal officials than they are with the current ones.  Hatred for referees is just part of the sports culture.

2.  Games last 9 minutes longer on average.

     What world-altering thing do these people think they were going to do in those 9 minutes?  Sit on the couch and watch the postgame show?  Use the bathroom?  These referees aren't used to calling an NFL game.  That's just a fact.  I'd rather they take the time to get together and make the right call than hurriedly make the wrong one.

3.  They're endangering the players.

     This is my favorite bad argument.  First of all, when some linebacker is going in for a crushing hit on a receiver, he's not thinking about who the referees are.  He's just going to make the play regardless, and if he gets a flag, so be it.

     But my real issue with this allegation is the sudden regard by the media for player safety.  Remember all the way back in 2010 and 2011, during the height of player safety rules and offensive bias, when everyone just wanted the officials to "let them play"?  Now we have this new batch of referees that calls far fewer penalties than their counterparts, that "lets them play", and how does everyone react?  With a big "thank you"?  No, suddenly everyone is worried about player safety and pass interference no-calls.  It's like they just want to complain for the sake of complaining.  That's what really bothers me.  Decide what you want, then stick with it.  You don't get both sides.  So when the referee lockout finally ends, I better not hear any complaining.

September 24, 2012

What Does The Packers-Seahawks Ending Mean?

     For those who weren't watching tonight's NFL game, let me recap the end of it for you.  Down 12-7 with 8 seconds left, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary pass into a mess of players in the end zone.  As players were pulled away from the pile, Seattle WR Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings were seen fighting for the football.  One referee called it an interception.  One called it a touchdown.  Somehow that meant the ruling was a touchdown.

The best picture I could find, but it's obvious Seattle doesn't have a player whose hands are close to that ball.

     But luckily, every NFL scoring play is reviewed on instant replay.  So what really happened on the play?  Jennings first caught the ball with Tate's hands about six inches underneath.  Then as the players came down, Tate also grabbed onto the ball and both men fought for control on the ground.  The commentary crew seemed convinced that Jennings earned the interception, as did I.  Yet the official ruling was, you guessed it, a touchdown.  The Packers players refused to line up for the extra point for about 10 minutes while the sideline reporters interviewed Wilson and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who both acted as if they believed it was a touchdown like any other.  It was quite a bizarre scene, and even though I hated what happened, I was glad to have seen it live.

     So now I'm trying to figure out what it all means.  A lot of people are going to blame this on the replacement referees, but I don't think that's what it was.  It was the regular officials, after all, who made the controversial Calvin Johnson no-catch call in 2010 (another play I had the pleasure of watching unfold in real time).  Referees of any kind make some bad calls.

     What I think this speaks more toward is the league's general favoritism towards offense.  Look at everything that happened in that play.  Tate wasn't flagged for an obvious pass interference.  When one ref signaled an interception and one signaled a touchdown, it was ruled a touchdown.  And then there was the atrocious call itself.  I don't know if the referees thought, consciously or subconsciously, that the tie goes to the receiver, like it does to the runner in baseball.  I don't know what more they wanted from Jennings, but he and the Packers got ripped off.

September 15, 2012

I Was Playing NCAA Football '11 A Few Weeks Ago

     And I discovered that Ryan Tannehill, currently the Dolphins' rookie starting QB, is Texas A&M's starting wide receiver in the game.  And his throw power and throw accuracy ratings are 40.

Proof That I Am Officially Getting Old

     In the last week, I saw two people wearing Packers jerseys.  (Well, more than two, but the rest are irrelevant.)  One was #30 and one was #18.  To normal people, they were obviously representing current Packers John Kuhn and Randall Cobb.  The first people I thought of when I saw the jerseys?

Ahman Green

and Doug Pederson.

I am getting old.

September 1, 2012

I Know This Story Has Been Beaten To Death...

     ...but Washington Nationals, please, please, please, please, please, PLEASE don't shut down Stephen Strasburg.  Of all the dumb ideas I've seen in the world of sports, this might be the worst.  Ever.  You're going to stop playing your best pitcher during a playoff run just to keep him from getting injured.  When exactly do you plan to let him pitch for a full year?  Some season in the future when you're the best team in the league and he becomes an elite pitcher?  Guess what?  That's right now!  You're the Washington Nationals!  You've had 6 consecutive losing seasons before this one, 4 of which saw you finish last in your division.  The only reason you have young talent like Strasburg and Bryce Harper is because you've been such an awful team.  After 6 terrible years, what makes you think this single year represents some sort of trend?  Unless you're the 2008 Rays, every surprise team goes back to being decent at best the next year.  And even the Rays lost 13 more games in '09 than '08. 

     Basically, this is it, Nationals.  This is the best chance you'll have for a long, long time to win the World Series.  You might not even get to the playoffs again with Strasburg, especially since Harper's going to bolt for New York the first chance he gets.  Even if the idea that pitching for only 160-180 innings per season protects you from injury was true, you should be pitching Strasburg every 5 games for the whole year, and then every 3 in the playoffs.  Go all in!  If he gets hurt, at least he got hurt doing his job during an epic playoff run and not during some 70-92 season five years from now.  You can't afford to hold back this year and hope you make the playoffs again, especially when you have the best record in the major leagues.  This is your one chance at greatness, and you need Strasburg to get there.