Making a gut call – the difficulty of officiating in pro sports

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – JANUARY 20: Tommylee Lewis #11 of the New Orleans Saints drops a pass broken up by Nickell Robey-Coleman #23 of the Los Angeles Rams during the fourth quarter in the NFC Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 20, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana.*trigger warning* (Photo by Kevin Cox/Getty Images)

In 2019, the Saints took on the Rams in the NFC Championship Game. It went down to the wire, it was tied 20-20, the Saints had the ball at the Rams 13 yard line. Saints quarterback, Drew Brees threw the ball to the right sideline for wide receiver Tommy Lee Lewis. Rams defensive back, Nickell Robey-Coleman pushed the receiver and made it so he was unable to catch the pass. The stadium filled with anger and confusion, Saints fans were angered by the decision of there not being a penalty called for pass interference. The Saints went on to lose the game and the missed call left an extremely sour taste in their mouth. It could’ve been a game winning play for the Saints.

The NFL made pass interference review-able this off-season, but there were doubts with the new rule. The NFL was forced to change the rule but it didn’t provide much hope for the future of the NFL. This season there has been only 3 reversed calls so far. This raises the question: is video reviewing penalties and using computers to make the accurate call beneficial for the future of the NFL, or are old school methods still the way to go?

I referee for Howard County Rec and Parks flag football program. Being able to see both sides has helped me better understand the conflict going on at the pro level. No sports league has turned towards robotic officiating except minor league baseball, as they are the only league who tried using a robotic strike zone. They are still experimenting with it but it doesn’t seem to be the answer. Being a referee isn’t trying to be perfect as your call will always upset someone. The aspect of human error has been part of sports for many years. You won’t always make the right call, you might miss a call, but going back and second guessing yourself makes the whole crew look less professional. You have to go with your gut.

Video review have had an immense impact on sports, its helped the officials make the correct calls on game changing plays but, it slows down the game for the fans and the players. I think having a video review system is still needed but it should not be the determining factor of every single aspect of every single game. Human referees see things from a human perspective, they know when to call certain penalties based off body language. They know when enough is enough. They also have the ability to explain calls based off of what you saw.

The NFL went from going under a hood to using Microsoft Tablets, the tablets also provide the fans too see what in particular the officials are reviewing.

This goes back to the NFC Championship game. Personally, I believe it was a missed call. After experimenting with the play in Madden NFL 19, I came to the conclusion it was a missed call and the official messed up. Being a ref myself I also saw the other side where the official had to stick with his original call and be able to take the heat for it. If he second guessed himself then his crew looks unprofessional as a whole.

DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 15: Referee Marc Joannette signals a goal for the Colorado Avalanche following a review of the play during the third period against the Los Angeles Kings at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado on November 15, 2016. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

In other sports, there are often controversial calls, the NHL has dealt with inconsistent officials and line’s judges. They use video review for plays that result in goals, like the NFL does with touchdowns and turnovers. They don’t use video review for penalties that take place, its solely based off what the official sees, like other sports they own up to the call they made and back it up, no matter what.

The NBA is a lot like the NHL, fouls are called based off what the eye can see, and they use video review to check the timing of the shots. Both leagues haven’t had a tremendous amount of controversy because they don’t overuse the replay system, and with both sports being very fast paced also limits chances to review the calls.

The MLB isn’t like other leagues, umpires have had to make calls behind the plate and in the field based off of what they see. They can’t review balls and strikes. There only use of video review is on plays with tagging the base, but in Game 6 of the 2019 World Series between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros, Nationals short-stop Trea Turner had an infield ground ball that he beat out for a base hit, Astros first basemen, Yuli Gurriel, didn’t catch the ball and therefor Turner was safe. After the review they came to the conclusion it was interference and that Turner would be out. The Astros went on to win that game and force a Game 7 in which the Nationals would go on to win. Based off watching it live and watching it multiple times, I’ve come to the conclusion that they didn’t make the correct call, but they stuck with the decision to throw the runner out.

The NBA and NHL are both faster paced games but they also have more consistent officiating because of how the officials have to make the call on the field and stick with it. The MLB will always have controversy when at the plate, but they normally make the correct call because of the fast paced level of play, especially when the ball is in play. The NFL is fast paced, and the ball might not always be involved in the play, but there’s always something taking place. Video reviewing has helped the game in goal line situations but it’s currently slowing down the pace of the game and taking away from the human aspect of the game. Calling what you see with your own eyes is better than reviewing every single penalty. I would still allow challenges, but the coaches will have one review per game for pass interference and one, or two if they get the first challenge right, for all other situations. They shouldn’t be allowed to have 2-3 challenges for pass interference which would most likely uphold the call on the field. Its hurting the game as a whole.

Andrew Sheppard is a junior member of the Multimedia Journalism and a member of The Quill.