Wednesday, February 08, 2006

From Pinstripes to Zebra Stripes

I had written a few paragraphs for the next of the 12 Questions series regarding A-Rod, but decided to scrap them. It seems pointless to attempt analysis on him. Sure, I could find some forecasted stats and talk about them, but that’s SG’s job. Me, I’m content simply stating that due to historical precedent, I think A-Rod will top a .390 OBP and .600 slugging. As long as he sticks to that, we’ll be just fine.

That leaves open the matter of today’s discussion. Plenty to talk about, baseball and otherwise, but I just want a second to share something with you, my loyal readers. I love getting plugs from the crew at Deadspin. It’s always nice to see a massive traffic spike for a day and the lesser effects on the following days. As it turns out, they only link to me when my post is humorous or topical. Since I’m rarely humorous, I guess I should go with the topical route.

(Note to the guys at Deadspin: thanks in advance for the link.)

It took me a few days, but I’m finally getting to this Super Bowl controversy thing. Let’s get one thing straight: I really didn’t care who won the game. I was routing for the Steelers merely because Ben Roethlisburger looks a little bit like my buddy Andy. That said, the officiating crew was rather embarrassing. Original opinion, I know. The zebras, however, were trumped by the league.

“The game was properly officiated, including, as in most NFL games, some tight plays that produced disagreement about the calls made by the officials," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

Yes, the league is defending the obvious blunders and implied bias of the referees Sunday night. This makes plenty of sense, though, and makes me think that Mr. Aiello doesn’t truly believe in his statement. See, the Super Bowl officials are chosen based on their ratings during the regular season. So the top-rated Umpire, the top-rated Back Judge (heh, Back Judge), etc. call the game. Why then would the NFL throw that crew under Jerome Bettis? How would that benefit them in any way?

These poor calls extend beyond the media-hyped pass-interference, holding, and chop-block calls. I wish I was taking notes on the game because I seriously remember saying, “flag” a few times when I thought I saw a Steelers lineman holding, only to see the field absent a yellow handkerchief. While it seems reasonable that a team commits a lot of penalties, I found it befuddling that every time the Seahawks were driving, I’d look down to gnaw on some wings and return to see them pushed back and attempting a field goal. It seems there were biases all around.

For once, I’d like to see the NFL take an actual position on some of these rulings. For example, the NFL can hide behind their rules when it comes to the Darrell Jackson pass interference call, because the rule allows for referee interpretation. Why can’t they tell the officials, “look, the rule is there so a receiver can’t push off a defender with the intention of creating separation. Don’t be a stickler for it, but look for blatant cases.” When Jackson “pushed off” Chris Hope, he was actually changing directions to get to the ball. It was incidental contact, and it didn’t look like Hope knew where the ball was anyway. Why make that call, and make it as decisively as the referee did – he threw the flag before even considering signaling touchdown.

And how doesn’t the NFL criticize the Line Judge for his flip-flopping on the Ben Roethlisburger TD. More importantly, why isn’t Mark Perlman (the Line Judge) being wire-tapped by the Republican party for this flip-flopping? After Ben hurtled towards the plane of the end zone, Perlman clearly put one hand in the air and ran towards midfield, the international sign for “no touchdown.” But after Ben fumbled with the ball after the play was dead, Perlman raised his arms as to say “hallelujah praise the Lord!” Where’s the explanation?

I consider myself rather old school. With sports, it always seems like times were better in the good old days. It worked then, so why are we working so hard to change it now? That’s how I roll. But in regards to the NFL, I’m beginning to think along the lines of Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. Technology needs to he implemented so the NFL can further assure fair games. Why now, you ask?

Other than this technology being newly available, there is another reason why new methods of officiating need implementing. We as a country have more invested in football – both emotionally and monetarily – than we ever have. It’s a big part of many people’s lives, and whether their motive is the love of the game or a few extra bucks from their bookie, the fans deserve a fairly officiated game. To deny referee bias becomes more ridiculous with each passing season.

Let’s start small with sensors in the end zones. Then the NFL can take further steps to implement digital, unbiased officiating aids.

I know there are plenty of purists out there who decry such an idea, since it would “take away the soul of the game.” Folks, let’s get this straight: the referees are less than a sideshow. Nobody cares about what they do as long as they call a fair game. Problem is, they haven't been calling fair games. Man has abused his power, and now man must suffer the consequences. By not utilizing state of the art technology, the NFL is playing right into the referees’ game. If, however, the NFL begins pursuing alternate routes, maybe the officials will wise up and realize that they’re not the attraction and should stick to doing their job correctly and intelligently.

Besides, computers were bound to take over some day anyway.