Here’s a fun fact many people don’t know: Being an NFL referee is not a full-time gig. Now, don’t get me wrong- they are well compensated- the average being ~$175,000 a season. They also receive ‘bonuses’ for reffing playoff games and the Super Bowl, but the NFL isn’t too quick to share those numbers. 1
Much has been said about refs missing calls or making bad ones- fans and players always seem to have a beef, especially if they end up on the losing side. Would making them ‘full time’ lead to better results on the field? I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s a ton that you can do in the off-season that is going to make a difference on the field for veteran refs.
I do think there’s a way to make life easier for refs, and it would go a long way toward make the game safer and more watchable, too.
Have less rules.
There has been a running joke for like half a decade now regarding what is or isn’t a catch. ‘More clear verbiage’ isn’t the answer to the problem- letting refs use their discretion is. A catch in football is like Justice Stewart’s description of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”
Further, I think the game could be made more safe with fewer enforced rules. I would get rid of many of the instances we see of holding penalties on both sides of the ball, but balance it with opening up pick plays and more liberal catch rules, especially along the sidelines and endlines.2
I think that rather than hard and fast rules regarding allowable tackling and contact, we should leave it to the discretion of the refs regarding what they see targeting, spearing, and other inherently dangerous play. That includes when a QB may or may not be hit.
I think they should completely do away with intentional grounding. How idiotic is it that you can’t throw a ball away in certain areas, but you can spike it into the ground to stop the clock?
It’s also stupid that they moved the extra point to the 15-yard line, but the 2-point try is still from the 2-yard line. Just make them start at the 20, but give the offense an untimed set of downs to convert either one.3, 4
It’s stupid that there is anything that is isn’t review-able, and it’s stupid that you can run out of challenges if you keep getting them right. That said, if the rules were clearer and didn’t require the equivalent of a Constitutional scholar to parse them, the reviews would be much quicker.
I’m not sure of what the answer is, but I also think we should pare down or eliminate many of the pre-snap penalties. There is just no reason why a offensive lineman flinching should result in a penalty. Why is a lineman accidentally doing something (possibly drawing a defense offsides) that a QB is trying to do on purpose a penalty?
In the same vein, many of the 12-men-on-the-field calls we’re seeing defenses rack up against hyperspeed offenses… It’s gamesmanship run amok. It’s one thing if you’re using a 12th-man tactic to hide a coverage or as subterfuge, but it’s another when a guy is running off the field at a dead sprint and a QB rushes to the line to catch him.
Ultimately, I think the end goal is having a simpler, smoother, more obvious game with as fair an outcome as possible. I think getting there involves trusting the people that are in charge of officiating to do that job. I would love to see a day when NFL officials were held in the same regard as rugby officials. As it stands, they are merely well-paid parking enforcement officers.