Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Poll: worst NFL referee and complaints

Please post (anonymously or not) your vote for the worst NFL referee. Also include your complaints about NFL referees, so we know why you think one of the referees is worse than the others.

Here's a list of NFL referees for 2006 to help jog your memory:
Walt Anderson, Gerry Austin, Jerome Boger, Mike Carey, Bill Carollo, Walt Coleman, Tony Corrente, Scott Green, Ed Houchuli, Bill Leavy, Terry McAulay, Peter Morelli, Larry Nemmers, Gene Steratore, Jeff Triplette, Bill Vinovich, and Ron Winter.

Other Sites Tracking NFL Referee Performance

Visit some others sites that are also tracking NFL Referee performance:

Fox Sports is providing basic information about referee performance for calling penalties (including penalties called and penalties accepted):

Mike Sando at the Seattle News Tribune is tracking fascinating statistics: penalties called, replay challenges made, and replay challenge reversal rates. He is also tracking replay challenges by coach.

Mike Sando wrote that there is variation among the referees about how many penalties they call per game. He wrote that "
These things tend to even out some over the course of a season."

One question is whether that is true or not. My feeling is that the tendencies do not even out over the course of a season, but of course they do somewhat compared to the largest stretches (just as someone on a long streak of any particular statistic will at some point come back to earth somewhat, but often will not "even out" over time). We will have to run some statistics on that.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

NFL Week 8: October 29, Jets Chris Baker TD Catch Controversy

On October 29 (week 8), the Browns beat the Jets 20-13 after referee Mike Carey and his crew ruled that a catch by Jets receiver Chris Baker in the endzone with 59 seconds left was out of bounds and that he was not forced out when he was hit by defensive back Brodney Pool. Baker held onto Chad Pennington's pass and the replays suggest that he very likely would have made the catch inbounds except that Chris Baker's hit knocked him out of bounds before he could get his feet down.

According to the rules, in the NFL a receiver who would have gotten his feet inbounds except for a hit by a defensive player should be ruled as a legal catch. So, under that rule, Chris Baker should have been awarded a touchdown if the referees believed he would have landed inbounds except for Chris Baker's hit.

Under the rules, it seems the referees' ruling that he would not have landed inbounds if Chris Baker had not hit him is a judgement call so it could not be reviewed by a replay official.

By the way, for weeks 1-7, referee Mike Carey had covered games in which the home team won 83% of the time. The ruling spoiled the Jets' chance to tie the game and after a few kneeldowns, the Browns won 20-13 so the home team won. Perhaps it was a mere coincidence that the home team frequently wins when Mike Carey is the referee, but I leave this for you to discuss byposting comments.

So, what do you think about the controversy? Should Chris Baker's catch have been ruled a touchdown? Do you think that the referees made an honest mistake? If you think they made a mistake, why do you think the mistake happened and how can they do better next time? Do you think the high percentage of home wins in games with Mike Carey is a coincidence?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mike Carey Referee Performance Week 6: NFL Referee

Please post a comment if you want to discuss referee Mike Carey and his performance in week 6, where Tampa Bay beat Cincinnati 14-13, with a controversial ending. Two calls were controversial: a sack on the final drive by Tampa Bay where Justin Smith sacked quarterback Bruce Gradkowski who fumbled (recovered by Cincinnati) but it was negated because referee Mike Carey threw a flag for roughing the passer.

Bengals Justin Smith: "I've never seen anything like that in my six years in the NFL." The official who made the call "must have season tickets down here."

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis criticized the call, saying "I guess you have to cuddle him to the ground." The Tampa Bay quarterback defended the call, saying "I felt weird . . . He kind of slammed me on my head. We got a good call there."

The second controversial call came with a replay challenge on the winning score -- whether receiver Michael Clayton had possession and scored a touchdown before landing and dropping the ball while hitting the field. The initial call was an incomplete pass, but after review, they called it a touchdown.

So, what do you think? Post your comment on whether it was the correct call, a horrible call, or a borderline call.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Statistical analysis of NFL referees

A New York Times article "Flags Raise Flag in NFL" on September 10, 2006 by Clifton Brown and Aron Pilhofer analyzed the disparity among NFL referee crews. In the 2005-06 season, Larry Nemmers's crew called the most penalties per game while Bill Vinovich's crew called the least per game.

Someone put a petition on the website onlinepetition that calls for the NFL to make the NFL Referees Association's statistics public, which the author of the petition asks to include a breakdown by referee of the penalties called, challenges made, challenge review rate, and penalty yardage called.

Aaron Schatz, who contributes to Pro Football Prospectus 2006, published fascinating statistics about NFL referees during the 2005 regular season. Some of the work was printed in the New York Times and the website footballoutsiders.com

According to Schatz, the 2005 leading penalizers and least penalizer referees were:
Larry Nemmers (20.6, 141 per game)
Ed Hochuli (19.1, 130)
Terry McAulay (18.6, 138)
Ron Winter (18.5, 128)
Walt Coleman (18.5, 125.1)
Bill Leavy (16.4, 124)
Tony Corrente (15.7, 105)
Gerry Austin (15.3, 99)
Walt Anderson (15.3, 104)
Bill Vinovich (12.3, 83)

Let's analyze the 2006 NFL season so far! Please post your comments to this analysis if you agree, disagree, or would like to analyze the data differently.

After 4 weeks in the 2006 NFL season, the top 4 and bottom 4 in penalizing teams are:
Mike Carey: 15.5-126
Bill Vinovich: 15.3-147
Tony Corrente: 14-124
Larry Nemmers: 13.3-118
Walt Anderson: 10.8-92
Walt Coleman: 10-78.3
Bill Leavy: 9.8-66
Peter Morelli: 7.7-63

So, Bill Vinovich has gone from lowest in 2005 to number 2 in 2006 in calling penalties. Quite a difference! Walt Anderson, though, is still near the bottom in penalties called. Ron Winter is 6th from the bottom, just missing the bottom-4 referees for calling penalties. This is even though for one game, not one penalty was accepted against the Broncos (week 2)!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

College Football 2006-07 Controversies

October 7, 2006: USC 26-20 Washington, with 10 seconds left, Washington completed a 20-yard pass play leaving them 5 seconds to take a shot into the endzone. But, inexplicably, the clock operator let the clock wind down to 2 seconds, not the 5 seconds on the clock when the play ended. The refs conferred but let the game continue and when they wound the clock down, it expired before Washington snapped the ball. The clock operator made a game-affecting error by letting the clock wind down to 2 seconds. It is strange that the refs perhaps noticed something might be wrong but did not stop the game to check it. I can't say whether the refs made any mistake in winding the last 2 seconds off, because there could be all sorts of possible reasons that happened -- the refs may have made a mistake or the Washington players may have been the ones to make the mistake.

September 16, 2006:
Oregon 34-33 Oklahoma, Oregon recovered an onside kick although replays suggested that an Oregon player touched the ball before it went 10 yards and interfered with an Oklahoma player trying to field the ball in the 10-yard zone. Also, the refs called pass interference against Oklahoma even though the pass may have been tipped at the line of scrimmage. The terrible fallout from the referees' mistakes is that they were suspended for one game and the head replay official, Gordon Riese, received death theats and asked for a one-year leave of absence. According to newspapers, he admits he made a terrible mistake and feels very badly about it. This reiterates how criticizing referees does not mean that we assume they are trying to cheat. If as a matter of games happening, referees sometimes make honest mistakes that have a huge effect on the game, then it makes sense that sports commentators and fans should be able to discuss them.

Clemson 27-20 Florida State, with the score tied, Clemson quarterback Will Proctor fumbled and Florida State's Lawrence Timmons came out of the pile with the ball. But the refs called the recovery mutual possession, so the offense kept the ball.

Auburn 7-3 LSU, refs overruled pass interference on Auburn cornerback Zach Gilbert because they felt he interfered with LSU receiver Buster Davis only while or after his Auburn teammate tipped the pass.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

NFL: When Is The Win Nearly Assured? (Through Week 4)

When is a win in an NFL game virtually assured? Starting with week one, we'll look at theories for deciding whether a win is nearly assured.

Three theories: (1) first to score, (2) leading after one quarter, (3) leading at halftime:

(1) first to score : 37-22 (62.7%) (9-7; 14-2; 8-5; 6-8).
(2) leading after one quarter: 33-16 with 12 tied after 1Q (67.3%) (8-5-3; 12-1-3; 6-4-4; 7-6-2)
(3) leading at halftime: 41-15 with 5 tied at halftime (73.2%) (13-2-1; 11-4-1; 10-3-1; 7-6-2)

So far, looks like the win is not very clear, with a good likelihood if leading at halftime.

World Chess Championships: Ref Criticism by Kramnik and Topalov

In the World Chess Championships, Veselin Topalov and his team filed a copmlaint against his opponent Vladimir Kramnik, who frequently visited the bathroom during the first four games of their 12-game match. At the time, Kramnik had a dominating 3-1 lead. The "referees" of the dispute were a three-person appeals committee. In judging the complaint, the appeals committee let Topalov's team watch the surveillance camera footage of Kramnik's private room (thank goodness they did not have cameras in the private room's bathroom).

The appeals committee ruled that Kramnik may not use the private bathroom and both players must share a mutual bathroom for the rest of the match. Toiletgate, some called the dispute. Kramnik refused to play game five and caused a delay on the entire match. He reportedly demanded that his private bathroom be reopened, the appeals committee be fired and replaced, and that his forfeit of game 5 be wiped off the books so the match could continue at 3-1.

The benefit of having a sport where people can criticize the referees is that people can talk about what is really happening. Nigel Short in the Guardian (UK) criticized each of the three members of the appeals committee, Yiorgos Makrapoulos and Zurab Azmaiparashvili supposedly have business dealings with FIDE (the federation that qualified Topalov for the match) and Jorge Vega, who supposedly did a poor job as arbiter of the FIDE World Championship in 2005.

Who was right and who was wrong was hotly debated. In my opinion, Topalov's protest probably should not have resulted in shutting the bathrooms and instead some type of warning or probation would have been appropriate. But the arbiters' questionable decision was no excuse for Kramnik to boycott play unilaterally, especially when his main complaints were very weak: his team initially argued that nobody could alter the bathroom arrangements without good reason (ignoring that dozens of trips to the bathroom could well be a good reason to change plans around, it wasn't like the arbiters shut the bathrooms on a whim or just for fun) and that Topalov is not allowed to complain about a game more than two hours after it ended (ignoring that Topalov's complaint was about future games based on newly discovered evidence, and did not seek to overturn the long-completed first four games).

Kramnik had anyway agreed to respect the arbiters' decision as final. So he blatantly violated the rules by refusing to play game 5. It's true that often, the one who responds is penalized and the initial perpetrator goes unpunished. But in the scheme of things, Kramnik's refusal to play was much worse than Topalov's provocative, weak complaint. So in this situation, Kramnik's improper reaction was much worse and much more harmful than anything Topalov did.

In the end, many players rallied behind Kramnik, who graciously agreed to continue the match at the score of 3-2 once the appeals committee resigned and the private bathroom was reopened (with additional searches and inspections in place).

The best solution would have been a negotiated agreement to continue the match at 3-1. Or for Kramnik never to have refused to play game 5. Or for some sanction to be imposed against Topalov if his complaints are considered frivolous or unfounded.

Still, the chess championships show that it is possible to let the players criticize the referees and still keep control over the sport. Players can criticize the arbiters, but if they improperly refuse to play, they can be punished for refusing to play (and be forfeited a game).