Ah yes, referees. Our favorite part of the sport, right? They absolutely love making the game more controlled by their “accurate” calls at all times. Whether it be watching your hopes of continuing in the postseason be ruined by watching the worst Pass Interference call in the history of football happen, calling a strike on somebody that did not even swing to end a 107 win baseball season to both ruin hopes of millions of fans, or even a body part that you aren’t even allowed to score with being offside that disallows a goal.
Refereeing, or umpiring, is well and indeed a job for someone who has a solid heart to take criticism; however, that is what you are expected to do, because you can control a team’s season in one call. So why do people give them the “slap on the wrist” treatment? It mainly comes from the idea that “if it is perfect all the time, then it would be less fun.” That idea only works in the context of the same team winning all the time, most definitely not refereeing. I think most people who play the sport or watch the sport religiously would rather be able to think to themselves, “Yeah, we lost the game fair and square,” rather than go home thinking they got robbed by an incredibly poor refereeing call. I think most of the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco Giants fans can agree.Embed from Getty Images
Now you could say, “But some are judgment calls, so that’s why they aren’t perfect.” An idea of this would be when a football is fumbled, and both teams fall onto it in a massive “man-mountain,” where it is unclear who actually got the ball. Then, you usually just see who had the ball before everyone fell onto it. Yet, you can not use that for every 50/50 call. An example of this would be calling a strike. It happened even in game 4 of the National League Championship Series of 2021 between the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. You could watch the ball fly into the top corner of the strike zone and be called a strike one pitch during the game. However, another pitch to the same spot is called a ball. There needs to be consistency.Embed from Getty Images
We have the technology to cover the referee’s mistakes; however, even that has flaws. An example of this would be in soccer, with the offside rule, which is when a player cannot run in front of the last defender when a forward pass is played. In 2020 in the Merseyside Derby, one of the biggest derbies in British soccer proved this an issue. It was 2-2 with only two more minutes of stoppage time between Everton and Liverpool. Sadio Mane passes the ball inside for Jordan Henderson to score past Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford for the last-minute winner, yet it does not count because of offside. The offside came when Thiago passed to Mane when he was considered offside even though he was offside by his elbow, which you are not allowed to score with and seemed almost perfectly lined in the video review. Yet, it was called off nonetheless when technological lines said he was offside by the width of a piece of paper.
Another example of technology failing us is in American Football. The rules for video review are incredibly complicated, which just sets up referees for failure. A perfect example would be the infamous Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints no pass interference call in 2019. For context, before this event, you weren’t allowed to video review a pass interference call in American football. Drew Brees throws up a pass to Tommylee Lewis, and Nickell Robey-Coleman goes in for an obviously illegal hit on Lewis to stop him from getting to the ball.
In most cases, the referee would immediately throw a flag and award first down to the Saints, yet on this day, it just was not meant to happen because it was considered a clean hit. This led to the Saints kicking a field goal to take only a three-point lead, rather than the potential seven they could have had if the penalty was called. This gave time for the Rams to run down the field to set up Greg Zuerlein to hit a game-tying field goal. The game goes into overtime, Drew Brees throws an interception, Rams go back down the field to set up Zuerlein to win, and the Rams win.
Overall, I could go into many more examples about how teams have been ruined by poor refereeing calls, but we would be here all day. Referees will forever be the people that keep the rules in check for sports during a competition, but will they ever be perfect and make everything easy for athletes and fans to watch the sport? No, absolutely not. However, like with athletes trying to improve their skills, we can strive for perfection and find a way to improve refereeing – our sports depend on it.