Scione | Exactly when did pro officials get so awful?
The replacement officials are back, or so it seems, and not just in the NFL. A few overwhelmed, inept and unsure rule enforcers are going from the NFL’s gridiron to MLB’s postseason diamonds.
Then again, all the on-field screwups in both sports are only exacerbated by league administrators. It’s trickle-down incompetence on full display.
We start in the NFL, a league that has stood behind its trickle-down incompetence policy since Aug. 8, 2006. That’s when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell first implemented the philosophy upon being named the replacement to retiring Paul Tagliabue.
The last two years – full of domestic abuse, drug abuse and football abuse – have bore witness to the damaging effects such a league-wide policy could have.
Now two straight Monday Night Football games have been compromised by such awful officiating and a shoulder shrug from league offices.
The most recent gaffe came in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 24-20 win over the San Diego Chargers. The clock operator, a league hire, let 18 seconds run off the clock as the Steelers took possession of a kickoff prior to their game-winning drive downfield. Having settled for a touchback, the clock should never have started as the receiving team never took the ball out of the end zone. Now it’s first-and-10 on the 20 with 2:38 remaining in regulation rather than 2:56 as it should have been.
NFL administrators have blamed the error on the clock operator, their hire, and a failure to correct the mistake on the side judge, an NFL official. According to the league, a performance evaluation is underway. Both will keep their jobs – after all, they’re just following the league’s trickle-down incompetence policy.
While the team being wronged overcame an error this week, the same cannot be said for Detroit’s Lions on Oct. 5 in Seattle.
With the game on the line, Lions receiver Calvin Jonson fumbled the ball at the 1 and toward the back of the end zone where Seahawks linebacker K.J… Wright reached out and illegally swatted the ball out of bounds. The ball should have been placed at the 1 and first down for Detroit. Instead, no call was made and the Seahawks took possession on a touchback at the 20 to run the clock out on a 13-10 victory. It’s not that the officials missed the play. It was right in front of them. They just didn’t know the rule.
League officials not knowing the rules of the game they are hired to properly oversee? Again, trickle-down incompetence.
The NFL admits the officials missed the penalty. Administrators have no problem doing that, per league policy.
Somehow it seems first-year MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has adopted a similar policy.
Inconsistency has always been a charge levied against baseball umpires from Little League all the way up to the majors. The biggest blown call of this season had to be during Saturday’s second game of the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets.
Yeah, even the most incompetent are allowed to officiate playoff games.
Dodgers baserunner Chase Utley, in an attempt to break up a double play attempt by the Mets’ middle infield, took out New York shortstop Ruben Tejada. It’s clear to anybody with 20/200 vision and a modicum of objectivity that Utley’s slide was illegal.
Umpires ruled the play legal, calling Utley out and allowing the batter, Howie Kendrick, to reach on a fielder’s choice. Then came the overturning of the call.
No, not that baserunner and batter were out for interference on an illegal slide, but that Utley was safe at second despite his hard, late slide being aimed directly at the Mets’ shortstop and not the second base bag.
The play – which resulted in two blown calls on the field and a broken fibula for Tejada – was reviewed and ultimately called illegal according to MLB rules.
Utley is now appealing a two-game suspension – yes, he’s allowed to play until Monday’s hearing – while Tejada is done for the season.
It’s OK, just another victim of trickle-down incompetence.
Whether the call was blown on the field or not is one thing. For the league to then rule it an illegal slide only to blow the punishment makes it worse.
Utley should be out for as long as Tejada is. Like until next spring.
Hopefully all this incompetence doesn’t trickle down the highway to Indianapolis as the Patriots and Colts square off in the ematch of the McNally Bowl.
It’s definitely too much to hope for. Trickle-down incompetence is the policy of professional sports leagues and the officiating crews that are supposed to know the rules of their game. Fans just have to pay big bucks to get a seat and deal with the outcome.
George Scione can be reached at 594-6520, gscione@nashuatelegraph.