NFL referees must be held accountable

By: Jordan Kendall, Senior Staff Writer

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

The week nine NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers featured several questionable calls from the officials. Arguably the worst call was a taunting penalty against Bears linebacker Cassius Marsh. I’ve already discussed my issues with the taunting penalty, so instead I’m going to discuss how I think officials should be punished for bad calls.

Marsh sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with under four minutes left in the fourth quarter and took a few steps towards Pittsburgh’s bench. He was called for taunting even though it didn’t appear he was directing his celebration at anyone specific. Chicago lost the game 29-27.

I want to focus on the fact that officials can make egregious calls without punishment. I can’t find any instances from the last 10 years of officials receiving fines for bad calls. 

I also only found one official who has been suspended in the last decade. Roy Ellison was suspended in 2013 for using demeaning language against a player and was placed on administrative leave and later reinstated in 2018 after again using bad language against a player. However, this had nothing to do with a bad call or any officiating decision. 

I’ve also only found one example in the last decade of an official being fired over a bad call. Hugo Cruz was fired in 2018 after calling a false start that replays showed should not have been a penalty. 

It doesn’t seem like officials are punished for bad calls which makes absolutely no sense to me. Players and coaches who criticize officials can be fined, but the officials themselves are safe from any punishment? They have a really significant impact on the game, and I think it’s very unfair that they rarely are punished for critical errors.

I’ve thought about how this can be fixed and have a proposal I hope the NFL would consider. In 2019 the average NFL official made $205,000 a year. Players, coaches, owners, and teams can all be fined, why not officials? I think there needs to be a policy that punishes officials for egregious calls. 

I’m not as concerned with questionable calls, I care more about the calls that have no valid reason to be made. I also believe this should include missing calls that clearly should have been made. 

In my proposed idea, the first instance would be a four-game suspension and a fine of 10% of their salary. I’m assuming most officials are making six figure salaries from the NFL since the average is $205,000. I think a fine of potentially $10,000 or more is a fair punishment. 

The second instance would be an eight-game suspension and the fine increases to 25%. The third instance would be a one-year suspension and a 50% fine. Once an official reaches a fourth egregious call, they would be fired. At each step, the official would also have to take a retraining course to ensure they know what should and should not be called.

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb has been fined over $25,000 this season alone on uniform violations. He’s been fined twice for having an untucked jersey and once for his socks not covering his lower leg. Why should he be fined for a minor infraction like an untucked jersey, but an official whose call costs a team the game gets nothing?

The only way officiating will improve is if they’re held accountable. It doesn’t matter how many rule changes are made or what points of emphasis the officials have going into a season. If they know they get away with making bad calls, they are more likely to continue to make bad calls.

This season, the NBA passed a rule to discourage players from drawing fouls by instigating contact with defenders. Fans, players, coaches, and media have praised it and the general consensus is that it made the NBA better to watch.

I think if the NFL held officials accountable, it would have a similar effect. I think there would be significantly fewer questionable calls and egregious calls that have dramatic outcomes in games. The officials should not decide who wins, the players should decide who wins. 

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