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The NFL Pinches Pennies on Officiating and Is Paying the Price

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 15:  Referee Clete Blakeman greets fans in the tunnel before a game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on September 15, 2019 in Nashville,Tennessee.  The Colts defeated the Titans 19-17.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions were screwed harder than most believed possible Monday night in Lambeau. Two non-existent hands-to-the-face penalties on Trey Flowers were imagined and spoke into existence. One to bring the Packers' punt team off the field while down 9 in the fourth quarter and the other to facilitate a chip-shot field goal at the final whistle. Throw in a befuddling no-call on a clear pass interference infraction and you have a salty stew everyone knows is a bad dish, but will eat anyway.

That's largely what the NFL is right now: a routinely bad product that people will still consume. A huge part of the problem is incompetent officiating that is impacting the outcome of games. Somehow, things have gotten worse in that department. Yesterday Pat McAfee brought the heat with a possible suggestion: that Al Riveron is allowing things to rot from the head.

Everyone pre-supposes that comically bad calls hurt the league. What Paul Pabst and myself suggest, however, is that it's not really the quality of the flags, it's the quantity.

People cannot quit the NFL. In fact, deep down, many would probably admit that they like the WWE-like qualities it's taken on. All drama is good drama. The work and the shoot both sell.

Of course, as any Lions fan will tell you this morning, things change a bit when it's your team that's getting shafted. For my bleary-eyed and confounded brethren, answers are in short supply. And it gets worse.

I'm here to tell everyone that these are literally the best football officials in the world. Classic good news-bad news scenario here. We all saw how sideways things got with the replacement officials a few years ago. So those lamenting that new blood would improve the situation are living in a dream world.

Sports are a human endeavor. Therefore there will be human error, both in the play and the adjudication of the rules. There is already too much replay in the game. Pausing to review every single bang-bang play would only make games more choppy and stagnant. Giving Mike Pereira total autonomy from a command center isn't realistic, though it's probably the ideal Band-Aid.

Change and improvement will have to come at an institutional level. The NFL, the richest sports league in the world, still relies on part-timers to officiate. This is patently absurd. All the innovation in the world and we have school teachers and plumbers putting on tight white pants on Sundays to eyeball some stuff up.

Maybe, just maybe, there's room for full-time refs in a $15 billion annual industry. One could make the argument that having the best possible applicants for the job is quite important. Turning it into a self-sustaining job would encourage competition for the spots. But the wheels of progress move slowly. No one should be holding their breath for the league to make this obvious fix in an expedient fashion.

Justice will continue to be miscarried. Your team will get its turn in the Call Randomizer 3000 and it will hurt. May as well brace for impact.