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Officiating Issues: Why in some ways I don’t blame Pat Narduzzi

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While Pat Narduzzi made a fool of himself on national television, there was some grain of truth to what he was saying, despite its incorrect nature. Officiating is a problem. And it’s not going away.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a certain phrase that holds that just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out to get you. In other words, you might be irrational about something, or believe some falsehoods, but it doesn’t mean you’re completely incorrect or crazy. After Thursday’s display of…coaching dedication and exuberance (if I’m being politic, crazy nonsense if I’m not), Pat Narduzzi said plenty in his postgame press conference to get fined. That’s obviously beside the point that his in-game antics were a complete embarrassment to the coaching profession and to the ACC on a national stage, but hey…

So after getting slapped with a token $5,000 fine, that should be the end of it. Conference has had its word, right? Everything done. Nope. Because it’s not just Narduzzi that’s the issue. Because he’s not the ACTUAL issue. Pat Narduzzi and his antics are a symptom. And that plague, that scourge of the heavens, is inconsistent and often just plain bad officiating. Jimbo Fisher joined in on it, to the tune of $20,000 out of his hindquarters.

But it doesn’t just end here. Nope. This stretches to all sports, all levels of competition. The NFL had a spate of it this weekend, with both Josh Norman and Cam Newton both going at referees for inconsistent or poor officiating.

It’s not even a football thing. I watch baseball. There’s still an ongoing argument about replacing umpires with automatic strike calls just to avoid the inconsistent strike zone calls. A lot of that is because of psychology.

Narduzzi, for all his bluster, was losing his mind over the inconsistency of calls. Foster was, of course, but not nearly to the degree that Pitt’s coach was. But Narduzzi subscribes to the same school of thought that the Seattle Seahawks and Pete Carroll and the Legion of Boom have pushed for years- that if you continuously push the boundaries, referees will be increasingly unwilling to call you on a consistent basis. And with such calls being so pivotal- look at this recent article by Kevin Seifert at ESPN advocating for the review of pass interference calls- it’s natural that getting or not getting them has a gigantic consequence on both a defense’s ability to defend and an offense’s ability to attack, especially downfield. All of this stacks in a referee’s mind as he’s out there trying to call the game.

In a roundabout way, I’m actually for coaches calling out referees, and I despise it that conferences have to cover butt for officiating crews whether or not they’re doing their jobs well. But they have to do it regardless because there’s no great way to tell if a referee is good or not. So many of these calls these days are subjective, and inequality sways back and forth on the line of scrimmage, but it’s mostly tilted toward the offense now- and has been for years. An offensive holding call- which I can tell you as a Tech fan is unequally enforced anecdotally- is 10 yards as a spot foul. A defensive holding call is ten OR fifteen yards, which often results in a new set of downs for the offense, while their FIRST down still maintains their chances in an abstract sense. In this new era of wide open offenses, that 20 yards isn’t as daunting as it used to be. But since this call is frequent and yet completely arbitrarily enforced or not, it’s hard to make a judgement anymore unless a holding penalty meets the Supreme Court definition of pornography- you know it when you see it.

But because of this subjectivity, this inconsistency, organizations like the NFL and the NCAA have to cover for their referees- because even when they’re good, and I have to believe in my heart that MOST of what referees do is the right call- because if they don’t and they admit things left and right are missed, it makes them look less and less professional and more like some sort of staged game or at worst, a biased, fixed show put on to deceive us. They also cover for the referees because otherwise without having to respect the officials in the only way that really counts- through the back pocket- the coaches and players have to play by the rules. Even if the rules can be completely silly, or the referees incompetent or incapable to the point at which you can argue it costs teams games.

At the same time, due to all this subjectivity, there are GOING to be wrong calls. All officiating is subjective to some degree, and that’s the issue. When you’re broadcasting live over many households, replaying the same play over and over again, obviously people at the TV camera angles will see things differently or root with their biases for against another call. But what I hate seeing is when players or teams seem to get star treatment, or are treated with certain levels of respect simply due to their importance or to their strategy. The bad thing is, there’s no way at all around this. You can’t automate every call in existence. We’re already approaching dangerous levels of games being extended by constant review because the calls are so subjective and questionable in the first place. With growing levels of technology and replay, and the general negativity wrapped around our society these days, referees have lost all benefit of the doubt- only to erode whatever might be left with being biased through their own fault OR through no fault of their own. I think fining people for displaying their frustration with it is utterly fruitless- it hasn’t actually stopped anything, and honestly, fining people for telling the truth in many cases seems...repugnant. But reminding people of their biases and making them think more about them is more healthy than not, you’d think.

Everyone following ACC teams have seen the hashtag #goACC. It’s become a representation of the fact that we, as ACC football fans, don’t think altogether that highly of our officiating. What I’m saying is, that all these outbursts, these inconsistencies, and these officiating failures are part of the game as long as humans will play them and run them. And with time and more and more technology available, it’s only going to have a larger and larger microscope put on it. There’s another discussion that’s to be had about simplifying the rulebook and making the game easier to officiate. It’s a worthwhile one at that. But right now, everyone hold up the candle for this golden age of officiating we all believed existed. Because while I doubt that ever did? If it did, it sure isn’t coming back.