Author’s note: For this article I will be speaking in regards to college football , but the same message applies in all sports.
Refs get a bad rap. Every sports fan here can probably remember a game when they felt their favorite team was slighted by a bad call. A bad call so erroneous that it changed the outcome of the game in their mind. Because of this almost universal experience, refs are not the most popular people on the field. As we all know, refs don’t have a press conference to answer any questions about calls they make. I personally think that option needs to be explored to some degree, but this article isn’t about that. This is for the guys who have to stay silent after the game, we are going to stick up for them.
Let’s take a look at the Texas vs. Cal game last Saturday.
Cal is ahead by seven with time winding down. It’s one of those scenarios where a 1st down by Cal wins the game as they can take a knee and run the clock out. The Cal running back, Vic Enwere, breaks one free and appears to score a game-sealing touchdown with about 1:22 left. But there’s a problem. Later, upon further review, Enwere dropped the ball before crossing the goal line. This constitutes a fumble, negating the touchdown.
Now here’s the controversy.
This happens so quick in real time, that the players and refs don’t realize the ball is technically live. Eventually, Texas safety Dylan Haines picks up the ball a short time later in the end zone. When refs do review the play, it’s determined that it is indeed a fumble and the touchdown is negated. What happens next is a judgement call. Even though the Texas safety did indeed recover the ball, according to Big 12 referee Mike Defee the ball was not “immediately recovered”. This gives the ball back to Cal on the 1 yard line as opposed to Texas at their own 20. From here Cal proceeds to take a knee to win the game.
Now there are plenty of examples similar to these, where a judgement call, in real time, is made that affects the outcome of the game. It doesn’t matter the call the ref made that night. If they called it a recovery we would still be having this conversation. Cal fans would be debating the definition of ‘immediate”. But things happened the way they happened and here we are. Texas fans are going to tell you they were robbed. Some people will bash the refs, stating they haven’t seen reffing this bad in ages. It’s the same thing year after year it seems like. I am the first to admit I am guilty of ref bashing. Just like most sports fans, I am biased towards my team and that emotion can get the better of me.
What we need to remember is that refs are human. This leads to them making human errors. They are one aspect of the game, part of the field. These people study a large 218 page booklet of rules (which I recommend you try reading and staying awake the whole time). They do it every year, along with keeping up with annual changes to the rule book. After that they then go out and run their asses off to keep up with the 22 athletes as they observe plays in real time, unfolding at incredible speeds. While they are doing this they are going through a checklist to help them remember those 218 pages worth of rules, then, they interpret them in a split second and make a judgment call.
I don’t know about you guys, but when I return from running to the grocery store, I’m out of breath and I forget the milk.
Refs are part of the game, plain and simple. Just like the weather, they can be unpredictable. It’s tough to account for the variable that is human error when it comes to refereeing a game. Some, if not the majority of coaches, prep for it. Most will practice with bad calls within their practice and have their players play out the scenario. Maybe as fans we need to start doing that as well, anticipating bad calls and adjusting our reactions accordingly. Yes, it will be hard when your favorite team loses and you feel it was the “refs fault.” But remember, your team probably prepared for this as well. They can be to blame for losing the game just as much as a bad call by the ref.
What we don’t need is our reffing duties overtaken by replays and video reviews. At that rate football games themselves would be an all day event with nothing but reviews the entire game. If you disturb the flow of the game, you disturb any momentum along with it. This affects the outcome of the game just as much as any bad call would. You give teams time to adjust and reprieve during that down time.
Also, I don’t want a single football game to take all day, there’s drinking and tailgating to be had.