A football field prepared for NFL games, with yellow cones on it.

The 2023-24 NFL may be remembered for the league’s worst officiating in history – John Cardullo

The number one sport in America has a huge problem. It is not the exposure that they get or is it the marketing they provide. The expansion of the shield is impressive. The league has invaded Europe, and they are being welcomed in ways that only remind you of when the United States freed Europe at the end of World War II. Record breaking crowds, sold out stadiums, and anything with the NFL logo sells out faster than the merchants can put it back on the shelves.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had envisioned the NFL as a worldwide enterprise. Starting in East Europe, the NFL began its eastward march across the land mass and France and Germany have fallen to the charms of the NFL football. Not to confuse it for anyone with soccer, which it is what the sport is called in America, but known as football pretty much everywhere else in the world. The NFL may not be taking over the world stage – yet! – but it sure has its sights on tapping into that stream of revenue. Give credit to Goodell and the boys who make up the NFL brain trust, the time is now, and the sport is being accepted with open arms!

However, there is one little hitch in the master plan of the NFL, the Officials! They have been flat out awful! During an average NFL game you can bet that a penalty flag will be thrown on virtually every play. Holding, Pass, Interference, Offsides, Neutral zone violation – those are the most common of calls made during a game; looking at replays of the penalty, most are legitimate, but many happen on every play. The holding that goes on with the interior lineman on both defense and offense happens, it seems, on every play. It makes you wonder why the officials choose to call the play after a team makes a big play. Most of the time, the penalty happened away from the action and wouldn’t have made a difference, but the official throws the flag.

Things have gotten so out of hand that they have introduced video review of penalties, or location of where the receivers’ feet were in reference to catching the ball. Was the ball carrier down by contact, ball placement, anything to clean up the game. What it has done is to slow up the game, and even with replay the officials still get many calls wrong.

Let’s go back a couple weeks ago, the Detroit Lions play the Dallas Cowboys at Dallas. The game hung in the balance; Detroit had just scored a touchdown to come within a point of tying the game. The Lions Coach, Dan Campbell, decided to go for the win by trying a 2-point conversion. Prior to the game, Campbell mentioned to the Officials that he had this play where a lineman would check into the game as an eligible receiver. The exact situation came into play, the lineman checked into the game and went over to the Official to check in as an eligible receiver (it was seen on video replay). The play worked, Detroit scored what they believed to be the game winning points, only to be told the player never checked into the game as an eligible receiver. The points were never put on the scoreboard and the Lions, and their fans (as a good part of America) fumed. While the Cowboys won the game, and the end result was the Lions dropped a seed in the playoff’s while Dallas moved up and was assured of a home game to start the playoffs.

The call was so poor it was the main topic on sports talk shows for weeks. Examples of how teams get favorable calls during games that help them win. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs were one team that was pointed out as receiving calls that help them win. The Cowboys were another team that benefited by calls that went their way in critical times during games. In the case of the Cowboys / Lions game, it came to light that the officiating crew was one of the poorest crews in all the NFL and many of their calls were either reviewed or being reviewed by the NFL office. The problem isn’t the fact of how and when a call is made, it is the amount of penalty flags that are thrown in a game.

Fans don’t spend the money they do to buy a ticket, pay for parking, purchase food and promotional items to sit there and watch as the officials take over the game. All too often that is the case, officials interjecting themselves into a game that may or may not alter the outcome. As fans, we should never know the name of any of the officials working a game. Each week as the games progress the bad calls keep piling up. For those who closely follow the game already know by know what crew is assigned to what game, the amount of game altering penalties that will be called. It has become a reel that gets played repeatedly, and it needs to stop!

The rules have changed the game, Quarterbacks who are in the grasp of a defensive player can still try to complete the play, but if the defensive player hits him too hard, there is a roughing the passer penalty. If a defensive player tackles a ball carrier to hard, there is an unnecessary roughness penalty. As the offenses continue to run “illegal Pick” plays on the defense to free up receivers or crack back blocks that hardly ever get called. It is obvious that the NFL has turned into an offensive minded league. The days of offenses are for show, but defenses win championships are gone! Fast break offenses are being promoted and the officials often call defenses for being too aggressive. High scoring games are sexy, low scoring are boring. The bottom line is that a happy medium needs to be met. Football is a in your face, smash mouth sport and it is very physical sport, and they need to reel it back and even the balance.

Now that there is legal betting in all forms from all over the world, it makes the average fan wonder about the integrity of the sport. Hey, it has happened before, basketball officials involved in point shaving games, one was so bad that a movie was made from the scandal, Eight Men Out about the 1919 Chicago White Sox throwing games in the World Series. There is a history here and it is hard to believe that with all the officials on the field, all the cameras working games, the review ability that happens at the stadium and from the home office out of New York. The coaches even could challenge an official’s call. Yet game after game, bad calls are made that alters the result.

The NFL must do better! The NFL needs to get involved and make the situation almost perfect! Fans don’t want to see a flag fest they want to see football, they want to see offenses out smart defenses, they want defensive heroes to be like Dick Butkus, Rodney Harrison or Michael Strahan, some of the most feared defensive players of their times. The NFL needs to let the players play and settle the game on the field, not in the review booth and certainly not by a flag throwing official who rather be safe than sorry. C’mon NFL, you’re better than that!


John Cardullo, sportswriter

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