Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Would Publicly Accountable Refs Clean Up Bad Calls?

The Lansing State Journal published an unsigned editorial today calling for Big Ten football officials to attend post-game press conferences as one of a two steps it said could help clean up officiating mistakes in the conference. The other move the Journal is key on is hiring full-time referees to lead the otherwise part-time crews (currently all refs are part timers).

The idea of media (and therefore public) accountability is one that has been traditionally shunned by most sports leagues. No major U.S. sports league has referees make public statements after games. And some European sports leagues - the English Premier League for example - gives stiff fines to any player or manager who dares to harshly criticize the referees who worked their match.

That attitude may be changing, however, and it has started with a league not known for being on the leading edge of progress - Major League Baseball. It started with a terrible call in game four of the American League Championship Series by third base umpire Tim McClelland, when two Yankees were standing off third base, both were tagged out yet only one was called out. McClelland, who has a fairly good reputation among MLB officials, decided to sit down with the media afterwards, take his medicine and explain how he botched the thing.

The Southeastern Conference has begun exposing referees to scrutiny as well, publicly reprimanding and suspending the officials who worked the Arkansas-Florida game this year and missed calls that wound up helping Florida on its winning drive. Such public reprimands are anathema to the Big Ten, which by its internal policy doesn't comment on officiating.

Could such scrutiny help clean up officiating? Perhaps. But it certainly won't help MSU after the fact when it gets hammered by a non-existent personal foul call and a non-review of a clear fumble. No one is going to go back and change the result and Sparty doesn't get a do-over of the whole Iowa game.

I'd love to see penalties be reviewable under the current replay system, particularly if they are large, drive-sustaining ones late in the game. Subjecting officials to post-game press conferences does nothing to change egregious errors on the field.

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