Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Replacement Referees' Incredible Work

Wow, what an amazing ending to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, 14-12 with Seahawks' receiver #21 Golden Tate being awarded a touchdown after getting his hands on a ball also being held by Green Pay Packers' defender #43 M.D. Jennings on a last-second Hail Mary throw by Russell Wilson for a 24 yard TD.

What was going on with the replacement referees and the replay official?  Aaron Rodgers said it was surprising that the replay official did not overturn the call, but maybe that type of issue is not reviewable.

A few initial thoughts:
  • Jennings got both hands on the ball first.  Tate only had one hand near the ball and later moved his other hand onto the ball.  Although Jennings was still in the air and had not yet landed, he had both hands on the ball first.
  • When they landed, Jennings had the ball in his chest and Tate's head was lying underneath Jennings's head.  Tate had to try to position his hands around Jennings's side to get to the ball that Jennings was clutching.
  • How much was the key referee influenced by the home crowd?  It might have been an unconscious influence in the excitement of the situation.
  • What happened with one referee seeming ready to signal an interception before the other referee signaled a touchdown and did they have a chance to talk to each other about what they saw?
  • Of course, Tate pushed off Packers defender #32 Sam Shields before leaping up for the pass.
The NFL gag rule looks even more ridiculous after a call like this.  The coaches and players are gagged from saying anything negative about the referees --  even on a controversial call like this one that decides the game.

Some of the games seem influenced by poor refereeing in the sense that it introduces a major factor of randomness to the games.  Sometimes, it does not seem like they are favoring one team much more than the other -- but by introducing inconsistent calls and questionable rulings, the better team is less likely to win and random noise affects the games.

If the NFL continues to lock out the real referees, it would be a poor move that appears especially greedy.  I predict that the NFL owners will continue to lock out the real referees even though they will look extremely greedy and obsessed with taking away pensions.

If the lockout ends, look at the teams that had less home games at the time the lockout ends.  Those teams will suffer from the lockout more than the others if you believe that the replacement referees generally have been favoring home teams.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Replacement Referees Week Three

What are the highlights for the replacement referees so far?  Should coaches and players focus even more on exploiting the referees' weaknesses?

Highlights could include
  • Patriots coach Bill Belichick reaching out and trying to grab a referee at the end of the game to argue something.  A 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct against Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
  • Initially calling for a 10 second runoff against the Redskins, calling a 15-yard penalty unsportsmanlike conduct, and then marching off 5 extra yards.
  • Incorrectly allowing the 49ers to make two challenges to calls on the field.
  • Marching off an extra 12 yards against the Lions for a 15-yard penalty due to a helmet-to-helmet hit.
  • Not penalizing the Steelers for a helmet-to-helmet hit by Ryan Mundy on Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (who had to be hospitalized).
  • Possibly more chippy play after the whistle and shoving.
What do you think the differences include with the replacement referees?
  • More unconscious bias toward home teams by referees who are influenced by the home crowd.
  • More pushing and holding on pass plays.
  • More hits after the whistle.
  • More helmet-to-helmet hits because players suspect the referees will not call them as often as they should.
  • Extra advantage to no-huddle offenses because by going faster, the referees are less able to call penalties, assuming that the offense has found ways to take advantage of less penalties being called.
 If the referees are endangering player safety by not cutting down on late hits and helmet-to-helmet hits, do the players at some point have a right to demand that the owners improve the conditions of the game?  In the same way that players should try to demand improvements if owners force players to risk their health by playing on poorly maintained playing fields?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

NFL replacement referees: week 1 of 2012

The 2012 NFL season is here!  I am interested in people's comments about the replacement referees, who are taking the place of the locked out NFL referees (the real referees).
It is disappointing that the NFL is gagging coaches and players from commenting on the replacement referees.
Now that the regular season is here (real games with real players).
Do you see glaring blunders?  Do you see certain tendencies of certain referees (or all of them generally)?  Will they be afraid to call every penalty they see?  Or go overboard and take over by calling more penalties than usual...
For the kickoff game between the NY Giants and Dallas Cowboys, the referee will be Jim Core.  Post comments on how his crew does.
Is it worth trying to track statistics for the replacement referees?

NY Giants and Dallas Cowboys, September 5, 2012 (Jim Core, referee):
  • NYG 3rd-4 at the DAL 4, 9:23 left in the second quarter.  Does the Cowboys' Orlando Scandrick get away with defensive holding on NYG's Victor Cruz?
  • NYG 2nd-8 at the NYG 25, 9:25 left in the third quarter.  Do the referees incorrectly call a penalty on Victor Cruz for an illegal block above the waist when there might have been minimal contact?
Are the replacement referees making mistakes?  And is it worse than what we would see with the real referees that the NFL has locked out?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Discuss the impact of locking out NFL referees

We have focused on statistics for NFL referees but now we invite you to discuss what the impact would be if the NFL continues to lock out the usual NFL referees during the regular season. Less penalties called -- so would that mean worse passing (if defensively holding wins out) and better rushing (if offensives holding wins out)? A boost to whichever teams have the best scouting reports on the new NFL referees? Which do you think those are?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Discussions about how referees affect scoring by both teams

Great post at Basketball Prospectus Unfiltered about the effects of NBA referees on how many points per possessions teams will score.


I have been doing similar analysis for how a specific NFL referee crew might have an effect on how many points are scored per game.

The hypothesis for the NBA and NFL analysis is that some referees will favor scoring points for the home and visiting teams. This is a logical hypothesis because just as some umpires in baseball have a small strike zone (making it harder for the pitcher to strike out batters), maybe some NBA referees call many fouls against the defense (making it harder for the defense to stop the offense) and maybe some NFL referees call more defensive pass interference penalties than others (making it harder for the defense to stop the offense).

The idea is that if a referee is equally helpful to the offense of both teams, then the referee might not be intentionally trying to influence the result of the game, but just that different people call games a little differently. Tracking referee performance may be the next level of analyzing the game -- and it is disappointing that sports analysts don't spend more time on it.

If only sports analysts spent more time on it, fans might get more insight into the games and one day I might get a little publicity for referee analysis. Nothing wrong with a little attention, right?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Open discussion of January 2012 NFL playoff referees

I've taken a little break from crunching numbers about NFL referees this season, but let me start an open discussion about NFL referees and the 2011 playoffs (the ones in January 2012).

For starters, what do people think about how Bill Leavy in a video review (challenged by the New York Giants) let stand the ruling on the field that Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings was down before losing the ball, so it was not a fumble? (The Giants won the game despite the call, so the call didn't change the result of the game.)

The NFL has stated that:

Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1 of the NFL Rule Book (page 35) states: ‘An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended: (a) when a runner is contacted by a defensive player and touches the ground with any part of his body other than his hands or feet. So by rule, if Jennings’ calf was on the ground prior to the ball coming loose, he is down by contact. Contrary to what was suggested during the game, there is no need for the runner’s knee to be on the ground.

Rule 15, Section 9 of the Rule Book (page 98) governs instant replay reviews and states: ‘All Replay Reviews will be conducted by the Referee on a field-level monitor after consultation with the other covering official(s), prior to review. A decision will be reversed only when the Referee has indisputable visual evidence available to him that warrants the change.'

Referee Bill Leavy conducted the instant replay video review and determined that there was no indisputable visual evidence to warrant reversing the on-field ruling of down by contact. As a result, the ruling on the field stood.

What do people think? Was the replay clear or not?

Feel free to comment on other controversial referee calls during the January 2012 playoff games, also. I am pretty perplexed about Bill Leavy's decision though and would like people's thoughts!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Referee Crews Influence Games Unintentionally To Different Degrees

Much of our statistical analysis of referees is based on an assumption that different referee crews will influence games in different ways. Perhaps some referee crews tend to call penalties more strictly against both defenses so they wind up with more penalties per game and more points scored per game. By discussing differences among the referee crews, we are not saying that a specific crew is biased against a particular team. Or biased intentionally at all. Maybe they just have different characteristics (unintentionally). By looking at these differences, we can deepen our understanding of the game.

Judy Battista of The New York Times wrote an article on August 22, 2010 called Umpires Moved, And A Tactic Is Removed

She explained that some astute coaches tracked referee crews for specific characteristics about how the umpire would move on certain types of plays. Umpires were in the middle of the field and could essentially be used as an obstacle for the offense or defense to run around (or into) during plays.

It's more evidence that different referee crews influence games (unintentionally) in different ways. Back when the umpire always stood in the middle of the field, some referee crews opened up more options for the offense to succeed by using the umpire as an obstacle for defenders. So much so that astute coaches tracked differences among referee crews.

Can you think of some ways referee crews may influence games differently? Any theories you want to offer that someone can try to track during the season? It's easiest to make a theory that can be tested with standard statistics everyone already tracks (to avoid having to watch all the games yourself to track a new statistic!)