Is NFL Officiating ‘Fixable’?

Featured Photo Credit: © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports via, LLC.

As I See It.

If you covered the NFL as long as I did – over 40 years in Houston and mostly Buffalo – you’ve seen an incredible change in how the NFL is played and marketed, and loved and hated at the same time.

When I was weekend sports anchor at KTRK-TV (ABC) in Houston in the early 70’s, the Oilers were horrible. They had a coach named Bill Peterson who regularly made comments that would make Yogi Berra look like a master of malapropisms. Here are a couple I remember: “Men, I want you to think about one word this season. One word and one word only. Super Bowl”. Or, “ok guys, pair up in groups of three, then line up in a circle.” “In the words of Patrick Henry – kill me or let me live.” 

I interviewed Bill several times, and he never could remember player’s names. He always referred to their numbers.

Then moving to Buffalo in 1973, we eventually had Hank Bullough in the 80’s. Yep, he’s the guy that said after a game “they really took the sails our of our winds”. “We keep beating ourselves, but we’re getting better at it.”

Right here I’d like to thank my sponsors: Atwal Eye Care, which did a fabulous job on my cataract surgery last summer.

Also, BluTusk Tech of Orchard Park for all your computer needs.

Enough humor for the day. Let’s discuss the officiating in the NFL. Disrespect for the guys wearing the stripes has always been real. People have always complained about the officials, with one common theme that NFL officials aren’t full time officials. They all have full time jobs. This is an argument for another day, because there are compelling arguments both for and against.

But the bottom line, is always the bottom line. As Cowboys owner Jerry Jones puts it, “We’re doing well. No need to change now.”

Despite the growing growls from NFL fans and media, not to mention players, the NFL is continuing to reap record profits. This is incredible when you think about how so many people now feel the NFL is “fixed”, or “scripted”. It’s also a fact that the NFL has survived many other blunders, in terms of race relations and the handling of some off field punishments and unrealistic skyrocketing costs for players, and as we know in Buffalo, new stadiums. Who pays for the increases? We do, of course.

Again, I refer back to the bottom line. The TV ratings for Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas were an astonishing ‘average’ of 123 million viewers. There’s only one TV event in history that did better, and that was the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon Landing, which reached 150 million. 

So obviously, the NFL is doing some things the right way, which is why Jamestown’s Roger Goodell is getting the BIG BUCKS. He just signed a new contract extension that puts him at $63.9 m a year, going by his past two seasons. The NFL hasn’t released the real number, but since Goodell came aboard in 2006, the NFL has TRIPLED its revenue to over $200B per year.

The winds are behind the NFL’s backs, for sure. No longer does just one network broadcast the Super Bowl. Super Bowl 58 was simulcast with Paramount + streaming, a Spanish version on Univision, and a kids centric coverage on Nickelodeon. Add to this legalized gambling – a record $123.4M in Vegas alone – and expansion into Europe and more coming, and the complaints about the officiating don’t mean much.

Maybe it’s getting older, but the focus and obsession about the officials baffles me. They actually get the calls right, according to several sources, over 96% of the time, despite the increased speed and power of the athletes. The officials have a split second to make a decision that, if close, is eventually scrutinized frame by frame slow motion that even then can be inconclusive.

Photo by © Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports via, LLC.

The NFL is spending FAR FAR FAR too much time, IMO, on making replay decisions. Yes, the replay has helped in terms of getting the calls right, but seriously, does it take 15 minutes? After the original call is made and a challenge is made, I think the officials should get a minute or less to look at a couple other angles. If it’s not crystal clear the original call was wrong, that’s it. There’s a point where it’s so close, that “getting it right” isn’t as important as maintaining the flow of the game. If a heel is a half inch over the line, should it be looked at from 10 different angles? It reminds me of the ridiculous off side challenge now in the NHL. Talk about microscopic judgements that KILL the flow of the game for a violation that had NO effect on the goal?

The real culprit here, to me, is obviously the increased gambling and Fantasy explosion. Fans now have reasons to be upset even when it’s not THEIR team, if they just lost $50 (or much more) on a call. We see what we want to see. A pass interference call for one fan is absolutely correct, while the opposing fan feels just as strongly the call “sucked”. 

Despite growing criticism, the NFL is also embracing the cultural and entertainment industry, and the recent Travis Kelce-Taylor Swift romance took this to another level. Her appearances have cultivated millions of new young fans who didn’t know a football from a hockey puck before.

But despite the NFL’s growing popularity and planned expansion into other foreign countries, there are some dark clouds hovering over the shiny new stadiums. A bushel full of new lawsuits are in play now, even though the league did get a victory in the Supreme Court of Nevada defending itself against Jon Gruden. Goodell also faces growing criticism about the league’s diversity hiring practices, even though some recent minority coaches hirings are being hailed as “progress” by Goodell.

For me personally, I’m far more interested in how the Bills can give Josh Allen some help in 2024. Who’ll be added as free agents? Can’t wait to see who’s drafted. It’s also fun to check out the continuing progress of the new Highmark Stadium, which will be a source of pride for most WNYers, but certainly not all.

Hopefully, the league won’t forget about the fans. Improve the replay rules. Perhaps challenge the officials even more directly to improve. Continue helping minimize the physical and mental traumas associated with the impact of elite athletes colliding with each other.

It’s never gonna be perfect, but don’t let that sap you of the joy it can bring as well. As Bill Peterson once said, “I’m the football coach around here, and don’t you remember it.”

Thanks again to sponsors Atwal Eye Care and BluTusk Tech.

Editor’s babble: It’s such a pleasure having Ed Kilgore contribute to our blog. You can also find Ed on Xwitter @Kilgore2Ed. is sponsored by 26 Shirts

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2 thoughts on “Is NFL Officiating ‘Fixable’?”

  1. Ed, you are correct on so many points…

    I look forward to the day when issues of Race are no longer a sign of progress but common place for anyone of merit’s ascendancy…

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