The League

Doug Farrar

Doug Farrar

A staff writer

Officiating consistency before OT reform


I get that overtime, especially postseason overtime, is the hot topic right now -- though I don't think it would be so had Brett Favre not been "denied" a Super Bowl shot when the Saints beat the Vikings in the extra frame of the NFC Championship. That said, I think there's something far more troubling that needs to be the first point on the competition committee's agenda: Consistency among officiating crews.

When I first asked committee co-chair Rich McKay about this at the 2007 Combine, he talked about being happy if every crew was in the same ballpark. Problem is, they're not. Not even close. The database we keep at Football Outsiders reveals some pretty startling numbers. Last year, for example, the crew led by Jerome Boger called 53 false starts in 15 games. In the same number of games, the crew led by Walt Coleman called 28. The difference in yardage between crews? A remarkable 114 (247 minus 113). In 15 games, Ed Hochuli's crew called 48 holding penalties for 392 yards. In that same number of games, Don Carey's crew called 17 for 140 yards. Is a difference of 252 yards, or 16.8 yards per game, significant? Seems to me it should be.

The numbers go on and on per penalty --- in almost every case, there's a whopping difference between the top and bottom crews. These are all 15-game totals. Defensive offside? Ron Winter's crew called 31 for 89 yards, and Alberto Riveron's crew called five (!) for 20. Defensive pass interference? Walt Coleman's crew called 18 for 239 yards, and Carl Cheffers' crew called five for 133. Unnecessary roughness? Ron Winter's crew led the pack with 18 for 235 yards; Coleman's crew brought up the rear with five for 43. You get the idea.

In essence, we're talking about the kind of difference that, if seen in baseball, would constitute one umpire having a strike zone that started three feet underground and went 10 feet above the batter's head; and another zone about the size of the logo on the poor guy's jersey. But because penalty totals aren't freely dispensed like other NFL stats, and it's tougher to keep track of who's doing what, the problem goes unnoticed. In the grand scheme of things, the competition committee should be spending far more time on this issue than whether overtime should follow the current pro system, the college system, or some unsatisfactory hybrid.

By Doug Farrar  |  March 2, 2010; 12:49 AM ET  | Category:  Competition Committee , Doug Farrar , NFL , NFL Rules , Overtime , Roger Goodell Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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This is a great point. Are the teams aware of this coming into the game? For instance, if I'm a cornerback and I see that Carl Chaffers is the ref, I'm going to play more tight and physical because I know it probably won't be called. Assuming it isn't changed, it at least adds a whole new dimension to the game, and it'd be awesome if Football Outsiders or somebody could keep track of the crews during the season so that the fans could follow the officiating as a side-plot to the larger narrative.

Posted by: crashinghero | March 3, 2010 8:11 AM

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