Saturday, April 10, 2004

Officiating in the NFL
Peter King wrote an article this week on about the inconsistencies that exist among NFL officiating crews in terms of how many flags they throw per game. His primary concern was that Walt Anderson's crew, over the course of the season had 91 more accepted penalties than Gerry Austin's crew. Now this says nothing about which crew made more correct calls, but it speaks volumes about the disparity in officiating across crews -- and that's a problem. I'm not sure how crews are allocated (presumably it's random), but if one team draws Anderson's crew more often than other teams then they're more likely to be penalized, which in some instances could result in points being taken of the board. King went on to say:
"Maybe I pick weird things to get upset about, but I think this is ridiculous. One or two games you can explain away, but on only one weekend that both of these crews worked did the Austin crew have more accepted penalties than Anderson's. Highest numbers of penalties called by Anderson and Co.: 33, 26, 19, 19, 18, 18 and 18. Austin's men had one game with more than 14 called fouls in a game -- they called 21 in Week 2."
I decided to use the table from King's article and look at how many more accepted penalties Anderson's crew had when compared to the rest of the officiating crews in the NFL in percent terms.
No. Crew Chief G Total Yards Per Game Pct diff
1 Walt Anderson 15 257 2,193 17.1 29.7%
2 Johnny Grier 15 238 2,001 15.9 20.6%
3 Ron Winter 15 213 1,666 14.2 7.7%
4 Tom White 15 211 1,817 14.1 7.0%
5 Terry McAulay 16 224 1,864 14 6.2%
5 Jeff Triplette 15 210 1,813 14 6.2%
7 Pete Morelli 16 217 1,972 13.6 3.2%
8 Larry Nemmers 15 197 1,550 13.1 -0.6%
9 Ron Blum 15 194 1,592 12.9 -2.1%
10 Tony Corrente 15 193 1,617 12.9 -2.1%
11 Ed Hochuli 15 190 1,610 12.7 -3.7%
12 Bill Carollo 15 188 1,944 12.5 -5.2%
13 Walt Coleman 15 179 1,472 11.9 -9.7%
14 Mike Carey 15 173 1,457 11.5 -12.8%
15 Bill Leavy 15 172 1,400 11.5 -12.8%
16 Bernie Kukar 15 167 1,315 11.1 -15.8%
17 Gerry Austin 15 166 1,394 11.1 -15.8%
The first thing that sticks out is that Anderson's crew has 30% more accepted penalties than the average crew -- that works out to four more penalties a game and 63 more penalties a season (pct diff in the table above is how many more penalties a crew calls when compared to the average number of penalties called). Statistically, both Anderson's and Grier's crew call more penalties than the average crew -- enough that it should raise some red flags in the office of Mike Pereira, the director of officiating.

I'm all for individuality in sports, but officiating isn't where it should show itself. There has to be some uniformity in the way games are called, especially when you're talking about one crew calling 30% more penalties than the average crew. When King brought this to Pereira's attention, here's what he said:
""That certainly sets off an alarm in my head...The one thing we strive for in our 17 crews is consistency. And that's going to be a big point of emphasis for our crews and our officiating department this offseason."

To that end, Pereira said the league would emphasize again the same definition of every penalty with each crew. That began with a four-day session this past weekend with the 17 crew chiefs. It will continue with the annual three-day officials clinic in July for all 120 zebras, then in their trips to training camps this summer."
I had to read this next paragraph twice, because on the surface it's both funny and disconcerting.
"In addition, Pereira thinks...high-tech tools will help make penalties more uniform. Officials have a private Web site now that has video capabilities and allows each official to go online at any time in or out of season to check the league's catalog of calls. "If an official wants to see all the illegal contact calls, for instance, he can go to the site and watch them all, one after another," Pereira said. Last season, 119 of 120 officials used the site, he said."
Let me get this straight, officials have the capability to view video footage of what illegal contact looks like? Shouldn't that be part of the pre-screening process -- I mean really, is it too much to ask potential officials to actually know the rules before they're hired?

From the table above you don't get an idea of how many games were affected based on the officiating crew, but I'm pretty sure there was an effect. I think it's important the Pereira realizes this as a problem and is doing something to address it. If he wants to take it one step further, maybe he can print up some flashcards with each infraction printed on one side and the severity of the penalty on the back -- that way officials can whip them out during the game, consult the appropriate flash card and make the correct call. I'm kidding of course (unless you think it'll really help), but there really needs to be more structure in how officials call games, because ultimately the winner should be decided on the field -- not because of some whistle or judgment made by a replay official.