“Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world.  If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.”

–Bill Veeck, Legendary HOF Owner of Indians, Browns, White Sox

When I read this quote, I want to believe it is true.  All of us want to believe that there is perfect order regarding the rules and their enforcement in our sports contests.  We bring an innate presumption  when we walk into the venue of any game.  We consider which team’s preparation, fitness, strength, and strategy have best positioned them to win, and we expect that the officiating will be a non-factor–until it isn’t.

Some of the most infuriating moments in a competition are when officials “miss” an infraction.  It angers coaches, players, and not least of all fans.  Last weekend in the waning moments of the NFC Championship, with all of the momentum behind the New Orleans Saints, the entire team of “all-star” officials blew it.  It took much joy out of the victory for the LA Rams and their fanbase, and it demoralized the Saints and their fanbase.   Additionally, the blatantly missed call shook the collective confidence of NFL fandom, making us question the game’s validity.  If officials can miss one as obvious as that no-call pass interference, with incredibly high stakes, when can we trust them to get it right?

Subjectivity is a huge component of officiating.  Even in Bill Veeck’s quote above, one must admit that what the umpire interprets to be a “strike” makes all the difference.  With the advancement and usage of technology, many mistakes can be avoided.  That improves confidence in the validity of outcomes.  But I wonder if subjectivity can be totally eliminated.  We’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, what is the best approach to the imperfections in officiating?  Again, I do not think at the youth sports level that it is an appropriate mantle for the young athlete or his parents to pick up.  The coach and the official should work through those situations setting the best possible examples of civility and thoroughness.  However, there are truths that players should understand and things over which they have control.

If you or your child have played sports, you have experienced times when you or a teammate felt a mistake cost your team the victory.  When I played high school basketball, during a tournament game we were ahead by one with only seconds remaining.  One of our best defenders misread the scoreboard, thinking we were losing by one.  She committed a foul in order to get the ball back for our team.  The opposing player made both foul shots and we were eliminated from the tournament.  I never made it back to the locker room, but it was said that our teammate was devastated and inconsolable.

If you play a team sport, one person cannot lose the game.  The hitter  who makes the last out does not cost his team the win.  The shooter who misses the desperation three-pointer at the buzzer shares responsibility with those who missed foul shots, failed to rebound, or turned the ball over earlier in the game.  A missed block, a bad play call, a poor snap, a fumble, an overthrown pass all combine to impact the outcome of a game.  Simply because it is the last mistake, doesn’t make it the defining mistake.  That’s just in the mind of some, and players must not fall prey to that misconception.

The errant no-call in New Orleans was inexcusable.  However, what if a coach improved his performance with a better game strategy, better play calling?  What if an athlete executed more efficiently and gave better effort?  What if it didn’t have to come down to a razor thin margin in the waning moments of the contest?  Then maybe the official’s untimely error wouldn’t be so blatant.

I sincerely hope a better rule is developed as a result of this recent officiating debacle.  But until then, we can all improve. Perhaps we can draw on perspective from experiencing many ups and downs in life, and remember that it is still just a game.


6 thoughts on “GAME OFFICIALS: PART TWO”

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