How many times this season in the NFL have we heard from the league that the officials made the wrong call? The answer is too many.
Many of the professional sports leagues make a fortune on their sport. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar per year business; MLB makes solid gains every year, as does NASCAR, the NBA, and the PGA. The NHL is now restarting their business after a year out but what they have in common is all the same. Sub standard officiating is taking away from the enjoyment of the sports experience as well as the actual flow of the game.
Fans bemoan the fact that one day the officials are going to cost a team a championship because they blew a call, didn't enforce the rules, or were left dangling by their league. Well folks, I hate to break it to you, that day has already come, that ship already sailed. Sadly, it was SEVEN years ago. Let me take you there...
The 1999 Stanley Cup Finals pitted the Dallas Stars versus the Buffalo Sabres. This was a great match up and a hard fought series. You had Brett Hull and Mike Modano leading a potent offence on a solid from top to bottom Dallas squad. For Buffalo, you had 'The Dominator', Dominik Hasek, in the prime of his career, and a ferocious, hard checking Buffalo Sabres team. The NHL, which in 1999 had instant replay and can and would review and reverse goal calls based upon this technology, also had a rule in place where an opposing player couldn't set foot in the goal crease to score a goal. The goal crease clearly marked in blue ice, as it still is today, indicating that this is the goalie's area and you must respect the area. Game Six, in Buffalo, went to overtime. Dallas owned a 3-2 series lead and if they were to score in sudden death, they would win their first ever Stanley Cup. In overtime, in a goal mouth scramble, Brett Hull scores the overtime winner for Dallas. They win the Stanley Cup! Dallas players jump on the ice, the press is allowed on the ice and are capturing the moment on film for all to see. Except the goal was illegal, and should have been disallowed. Replays showed that Hull's skate was in the crease as he swept the puck into the net. This play should have been called a no-goal. Lindy Ruff, coach of the Sabres, was pleading with the officials to review the play, but no review was forthcoming. The Stanley Cup was awarded to a team because of a gaffe not only by the officials, but by the league itself. As a footnote, pardon the pun, the league eliminated the crease rule immediately after the season was over.
These leagues make millions, if not billions of dollars. They all embrace the latest in technology. HD-TV for example, every league is hitching their wagon to the latest way to watch the game. Get closer to the action, feel the bone jarring hits, the speed, the passion. Then get the feeling of what it must feel like when you get screwed over on a bad call.
My solution is to earmark major funds into officiating. All on field, on-ice or on course officials should be full time employees of the league. Set up a pay scale that is incredibly high. Why you ask? This will allow the leagues to attract all the smart people to become officials. I want to see a report that Tom Smith has become the first million dollar referee in the NHL. He would get paid that money because he is the best. Hey, if I knew little Timmy could make a million as a ref, I'd dress him up as a Zebra on Halloween, just to get him used to it. Then I'd hurl abuse at him more so then I do now over stupid little insignificant things and allow him to give me a time out.
The amount of civic, state and national pride that goes into sport is reason enough for the sport to invest heavily in the officials. While the NHL incident didn't register in the sports conscious USA seven years ago, imagine what would happen if the Super Bowl came down to a punt return a la Steve Smith's punt return last week against the Seahawks. Clearly, there was a flag thrown. Clearly, there was a block in the back. Clearly, that was a blown call. The touchdown stood, and then the officials this week admit that there was a blown call there. No kidding! A multi-billion dollar sport has a mental meltdown on national television and the NFL admits quietly, four days later...oops.
There will come a time when the team that loses the big game takes the league to court to overrule the officials and the league because they blew the call. You know what, they would win, because the mandate of the league is to get the call right. Again imagine if this happens. It would be like the George Brett pine-tar thing all over again. Three weeks later, the Steelers and Seahawks go back to Ford Field to replay the last 47 seconds of Super Bowl XL because Antwaan Randle-El ran back a punt, but Lofa Tatupu was blocked in the back. Pittsburgh's points come off the board, tack ten yards on from the spot of the foul, and you have 45 seconds to drive 87 yards for the touchdown to win the game. Hang on guys; I just have to move these 800 cars now that the car show is back in town!