By: Barry Barnes
Before a players strap on their pads and have their ankles taped, and even prior to the first burger served during tailgating, the thought of a referee making a bad call can make fans and athletes alike cringe. Human error is a part of life, just not in football – or so people say. Well, the league has recognized the issues placed before them and implemented resources to help relax the nervous system of fans and all involved parties.
And the Officiating Clinic is one of the Shield’s vehicles for this.
The Clinic is under the umbrella of the Football Officiating Academy. The program was established by the NFL to increase the awareness of officiating and encourage officials, while developing their social skills through the program, with the focus of building their knowledge for officiating and character development.
The NFL officials and referees will gather in Dallas Thursday for four-days to prepare, obtain an overview of the 2014-15 seasonal goals and organize their crews.
For decades, the NFL has continuously develop programs and systems to help improve officiating. A questionable call can destroy a team’s season after a year of preparation spanning from the offseason, to camps and through the regular season and playoffs. Causing the players and coaches to believe their training and sacrifices were all in vain, due to a questionable flag.
The NFL wants to avoid such costly situations.
“The officials are the best in the business, otherwise they wouldn’t be on a NFL field,” said NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent. “I knew they would call the game as they see it. My part was to control what I could control and focus on doing my job better in each situation.”
“While it may sound obvious, but as players, we play the game the best we can on every play,” he added. “Likewise, the officials make the call the best they can on every play.”
Viewers at home get a brief delay for live games, which is slowed down for viewing sake. Players, coaches and fans in the stands get to view instant replay on a screen, mainly for the hosting team’s sake.
What do the referees get? A flash, a blink of an eye. That’s the referees’ view as the speed of players is uncanny with several additional pounds of hard plastic attach to their bodies. Television networks don’t present contests in live speed because the viewers will miss out on play occurrences due to the speed of the game.
Is the NFL asking for pity from teams and the fans on behalf of the officials?
Absolutely not. Nevertheless, Vincent and the league want all involving parties to be clear that measures are put in place to prevent questionable decisions from being made, especially in critical situations.
“What is not common knowledge is that officials are graded on every play, every call, and every non-call, and they are critiqued after every game,” said Vincent. “They are expected to be in great physical shape and able to determine within a hair of a second what the call should be. They can’t take a play off and in the rare instance they miss a call, everyone is on them. Our officials have a lot of responsibilities.”
This season, Dean Blandino, NFL vice president of Officiating, will get the chance to take aim as he will be at the center of instant replay once again. The NFL announced in March that the owners voted to pass Rule 9 proposal at the league meetings in Orlando, Fla. The proposal will allow referees to contact Blandino at the command center in New York to review challenged calls for accuracy.
This action will not slow the action on the field down. This proposal was embraced positively around the league as the ruling is a statement, by the NFL, to get the calls right.
Most specifically, the command center will not make the call, but will advise the referee on what to look for in the play and they will make the ultimate decision.
Before Blandino was named vice president last year, he was a member of the NFL Officiating Department for 15 years, as he was the director of the league’s instant replay program. From 1999 to 2003, Blandino was an instant replay official and his expertise opened the door for him to call two conference championship games and two Super Bowls.
Blandino dedicated his life to instant replay and in 2009, he established his own company “Under The Hood,” which provided replay officials the training and evaluation they need to succeed on the field of play.
Clearly, Blandino is no stranger to instant replay.
“I’m very excited to become a part of the replay process this season,” said Blandino. “My background is in replay and I was a replay official for four years so to be able to consult with our referees during reviews is something I am very much looking forward to.”
The officials will be in a host of meetings this weekend as the Clinic will be the final tune up of their version of training camp to prepare for action on the field, starting with the teams’ training camp which will be kicked off by the Buffalo Bills on July 18 when players report to camp for practice beginning on July 20.
Unfortunately, no system is perfect and there will be some questionable decisions made on the field as human error will always prevail at some point. Thankfully, the Shield is determined to defy Murphy’s Law with technology and there will be a difference as the officials will be empowered by the NFL, starting this season.
“Game integrity and administration are extremely important to players, coaches and fans,” said Vincent. “It is imperative that our officials have the respect and confidence of the Clubs, the League and the fans. Our input into their preparation, training, and technology assists them in bringing clarity, consistency and credibility to the game.”
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