Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Controversial Referees in the Baltimore Ravens-New England Patriots Game

It seems like the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens are in a bunch of games with controversial referee calls. This time, the Monday night game between them on December 3, 2007. (The Patriots had some controversial calls in a game against the Indianapolis Colts and the Ravens had a controversial field goal decision in a game with the Cleveland Browns.)

Examples include questions about:
  • Baltimore cornerback Samari Rolle said that head linesman Phil McKinnely (number 110) called Samari Rolle "boy" several times, which angered Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott.
  • New England's Tom Brady was quoted after the game as saying "a lot of questionable calls" about the game.
  • Baltimore's Willis McGahee was quoted after the game as saying "we get some bogus calls."
  • In the fourth quarter, the referees called defensive holding on Baltimore safety Jamaine Winborne to continue the Patriots's winning drive. Baltimore's Chris McAlister qs quoted as questioning that penalty call, saying "It's hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time."
  • When Baltimore safety Ed Reed intercepted a pass near the end of the second quarter, the referees did not call pass interference against the defender who had reached out to Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, the intended receiver on the play.
One of my questions is why the journalists who are writing stories about the game aren't analyzing the referee calls to explain whether they think the calls were good or bad. It is the easy way out just to quote players' opinions about what happened. Shouldn't the writers offer their own opinion about what happened on the field, especially for the readers who did not have a chance to watch the game on tv?

A big problem with just quoting players and not offering their own opinion is that many sports leagues including the NFL will penalize players, coaches, and owners for criticizing the referees. Why would journalists rely on quotes from people who have a gag rule that prevents them from sharing their complaints (without risking a fine, of course).

The way that journalists fail to cover the performance of the referees unless the players offer complaints is a big reason that players should not be penalized for commenting on how the referees performed.

Please post your comments on either how the referees did in the game or on whether it seems unfair that journalists rarely offer their own opinion about how well the referees performed, preferring instead just to repeat one or two player quotes.

Later, I will try to look into how Walt Anderson's referee crew's performance this year compares statistically with the other referee crews. His crew is known for being near the top this season in penalties per game, penalty yards per game, and (strangely) the home team's rate of winning games. Walt Anderson's crew was pretty much in the middle of the pack in 2006 for penalties per game.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yours is a good blog. Referees and the media have -- because of the NFL -- had a cozy relationship since football became the national pastime in the 1960s and 1970s with the advent of national television. In the AFL championship games leading to Super Bowls II and IV, the officiating crew called pass interference on plays where there was no contact whatsoever. Indeed, in Super Bowl II, Fred Williamson was called for interference when HE WAS NOT ON THE FIELD. In the 1970s, the powerful Steelers were playing the Oilers in the AFC championship game. Oiler receiver Mike Renfro made a spectacular catch at the end of the end zone for an 18 yard touchdown that woud have defeated the powerful Steelers (I am a big Steeler fan, but truth is truth): Renfro was ruled out of bounds and he was clearly in bounds. The NFL did not use instant replay at that time. However, the cameras replayed the catch 20 times and the member of the officiating crew was standing right on the spot and didn't rule Renfro out of bounds until after he looked up and saw that a catch was made. In the Steelers Super Bowl win two years ago, offensive pass interference (pushing off) was called against a Seattle receiver after he caught a 10 yard touchdown, but the receiver did not touch the Pittsburgh defender. Sometimes, these calls do not change the outcome of the game, and sometimes they do. But it is well known that "word gets around" among the referees as to "who is selling TV ratings" and there is an unwritten rule by referees to lean that way. (Markon, Say It Ain't so, 2000.) The sportswriters can be banned from covering the NFL or otherwise banishd from their jobs for becoming too noisy about this ugly part of the NFL. (Remember Chris Myers of ESPN; the best up and coming announcer of the 1990s; he took on a series of contoversial calls and is now gone from the industry; he was blackballed and now is relegated to a radio show and a small spot on the sports juggernaut Fox.) The officiating last night in Ravens/Patriots was so bad that the referee did not pull his flag on the holding call in the end zone until after the play was over (watch the replay). This was 9 steps after the play was over, and most importantly well after the receiver dropped the ball ending the game. The problem comes from the NFL who will not adversely affect its ratings. This year, the Patriots undefeated run as the best ever is GOOD FOR RATINGS. The referees and sportwriters are not going to buck that system, in general. I fully expect next week to have five calls go against Pittsburgh, and thus Pittsburgh will have no chance of winning. That is why I have one conclusion: Yes, this is a great Patriots team. In fact, your comments are accurate: They don't like these calls either because it deflects from how good they are and -- with spygate -- they may end up with a big mental asterisk among football purists. But, because of the officiating, this Patriots club does not get status with the 1989 49ers, the 1985 Bears, the 1979 Steelers, the 1972 Dolphins, the 1966 Packers, the 1960 Eagles, etc., unless they DECISIVELY BLOW OUT their opposition in the Super Bowl. If they win on a late field goal, the referees will likely have decided the game. Nonetheless, they just might do it. They have a great quarterback. But, right now, this Patriots team should be 9-3. The 1985 Bears would have given them fits, and there are 10 teams over the last 40 years that would have crushed them even without the bigger size on offensive and defensive lines (which is not that significant of a factor -- the athletes win the games). Can you imagine what Joe Montana would have done to this year's Patriot's defense? Baltimore scored 24 points against them. Montana, Rice, Craig and Company -- 70 points if need be. Be ready to become more frustrated. Somebody has to blow this Patriot's team out in order to stop this nonsense, and Brady and company are probably too good for that (only because of Brady). Good question though. Good blog. In back to back weeks, two sub-par teams with terrible quarterbacks scored more than 50 points against "the greatest team ever." Cut me a break.

8:42 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

"Shouldn't the writers offer their own opinion about what happened on the field, especially for the readers who did not have a chance to watch the game on tv?"

Nope. Writers who are reporting should tell me what happened without their opinion getting too mixed up in it.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No offense to referees, but all sporting leagues need to have robots w/ cameras and whatnot so we can have more accurate and objective calls. The technology is definitely there. Obviously slanted calls are turning sports into sports entertainment. Not much different than WWF, just much more subtle.

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a die hard Steelers fan, I absolutely hate the Ravens. With that said, the Ravens were absolutely screwed out of a win against the Pats.

Questionable calls, 3 do-overs on 4th down for the Patriots to keep their hopes alive?!? I would mention 45 yards in penalties in the last 30 seconds or so, but some of that was actually deserved.

How any objective person could say that officiating didn't greatly influence the outcome, because as someone who absolutely despises the Ravens and loves to see them lose, I have to say - they got screwed!

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Questionable calls, 3 do-overs on 4th down for the Patriots to keep their hopes alive?!? I would mention 45 yards in penalties in the last 30 seconds or so, but some of that was actually deserved."

What game were you watching? Every single one of those calls was warranted. The Ravens simply had a mental melt down at the end of the game.

And why not blame the Raven's coaching staff for their completely bone headed time out call on 4th and 1? That faux pas cost the Ravens the game without doubt.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This whole blog topic is very interesting. I would agree that the media covering this event is very non-biased when they are biased about almost everything else. I didn't catch the game last night, but I heard a lot about it on ESPN commentaries this morning. When I went to research it about an hour ago, the only things I found that actually talked about the refs performance, whether good or bad (mostly bad) were blogs. This may be going a bit overboard, but I would really not be surprised if it comes out that somebody was paid off.

That having been said, I know there have been several TV personalities that have not been biased, based on my viewing of ESPN this morning. Just think about Bryant Gumbel on NFL network last Thursday. If his commentary wasn't biased against the Cowboys, I don't know what is.

7:44 PM  
Anonymous refchat said...

jon said: "Shouldn't the writers offer their own opinion about what happened on the field, especially for the readers who did not have a chance to watch the game on tv?" Nope. Writers who are reporting should tell me what happened without their opinion getting too mixed up in it.

Thanks, jon, for your comment! I disagree with you and think that writers should offer commentary about referees like they already do about the players. If a QB makes a great play, they appropriately write "great play by the QB" as opposed to just reporting the facts of "QB completed pass to WR for X yards."

If a QB makes a bad play, they write "QB played badly." They should do the same thing for referees when appropriate. If the referee makes a bad call, they should write "ref made a bad call" or "ref had a bad game." Nothing wrong with that.

If you take every opinion out of a writer's report, it becomes a copy of the box score with really bland factual statements like "home team scored X points, visited team scored Y points, Z number of completions, blah blah blah"

10:14 AM  
Blogger Mike Rogers said...

Seems as if the Ravens are once again victims of the NFL referees "judgement" that favors the other team to victory. The latest blown call that resulted in a Steelers touchdown to secure a hard-fought victory in a game that should have been decided by the players, not the officials. Nice job NFL, ruining a great product.

1:37 AM  

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