On Monday morning, a post made its way to the top of the NFL subreddit titled How was your officiating crew this weekend?
The top answers were laden with expletives, but one Titans fan wrote, "Jeff Triplette has no business refereeing in the National Football League at this point."
"You guys had Triplette this week?," a Jaguars fan replied to his division rival. "Good news for us, then, since he can't officiate 2 games in a row for the same team. That's how bad he is. I'll literally take anyone over him."
A Bills fan replied, "Well for starters this 3rd and 11 play was given a first down," and supplied the following image:
"The [offensive pass interference] call on [Rob Gronkowski] was [expletive]," a Vikings fan wrote about the Sunday Night Football product.
"Literally, what the hell is gronk (sic) allowed to do?," a 49ers fan agreed. "Can he even touch the guy? How are you supposed to get around the DB without touching him slightly?"
"The Pats got jobbed," a Bills fan said.
There has been a lot of airtime dedicated to the poor officiating that has transpired in recent Patriots games, whether it was the inadvertent whistle in the Bills game, the incorrect stoppage of time on Buffalo's final drive, blatant running into the kicker calls, or the ridiculous offensive pass interference calls that go against Patriots tight end Rob Gronkwski.
Defender engages Gronk. Only supposed to be interference if Gronk engages. pic.twitter.com/k3qTG048bS— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) November 30, 2015
The issues surrounding what is a catch, what is an illegal pick, what is holding, and what is pass interference all boils down to however the official is feeling at any given time.
There will always be a level of subjectivity to penalties as some officiating crews like to run a tight ship, while others "let them play," but this differentiation is enough to lead fans to question the integrity of the game.
And for a league that spent so much time in the offseason challenging the validity of the Patriots victories due to unproven issues of ball pressure, you would think they would spend more time trying to improve their officiating instead of making the process more convoluted.
The biggest hole in the entire Wells Report is the fact that there was no starting point for the math that was so heavily relied upon as proof. The officials said well, the Patriots wanted 12.5 PSI and the Colts wanted 13.0 and that was how the Wells and Exponent team ran through the numbers. It was never recorded and the officials even said that the Colts footballs were at a likely range of 12.8-13.1 PSI.
The fact the "scientific" study generalized the starting point as 13.0 PSI for the Colts, even though there was an admitted range, without granting the Patriots the same range of starting levels masked both the shoddy mathematics at the core of the report, but also brushed over a key issue with the officials: they didn't really care about the starting pressure if they let the balls stand at a range of pressures.
But instead of the league admitting that the officials could have done a better job prior to the game, Roger Goodell and company decided to jump at the Patriots and declare Tom Brady a cheater.
There is nothing more damaging to the perceived integrity of a game than when viewers can't trust the officials to officiate in a balanced way. We're not talking Tim Donaghy levels of corruption, but when a referee can make a subjective call that can change the outcome of the game (ex: an obvious running into the punter goes uncalled, a defender that launches himself and hits the head of the quarterback is ignored, a terrible offensive pass interference call that wipes out a major first down, or a tacky defensive holding call that gives the other team a new set of downs on the goal line, or obvious missed holding calls on touchdown runs), it deserves to undergo additional scrutiny.
And when the decisions fail to meet the expected standards, the integrity of the game is questioned.
There is nothing more vital than quality officiating, and nothing more infuriating than the absence. The league has spent the past few years, especially after the dark Replacement Ref era, protecting their officials and hiding them from blame. The league needs to own up to the fact that the officials are a problem and that the league is the source of the solution.
There are two directions the league can go.
1) Pay the referees. The fans deserve more than just four full time officials and fully dedicated officiating corps will offer greater consistency across crews than part-time officials.
2) Keep the same referee hiring process, but slice the rule book to remove as much of the subjectivity as possible.
The league's inability to self-reflect and address itself as the root of the problems, and the potential catalyst for a solution, is an indictment of the NFL's leadership, and when you can't trust those in power, well, the eventual questioning of their integrity isn't far behind.