Friday, September 28, 2012

The Case Against Roger Goodell

It is another of those bizarre circumstances that leaves one baffled. The NFL and the NFL Referees Association signed an eight year deal ending the lockout of the refs for the first three games of the season. And the entire sports world is celebrating after a three week campaign of hatred against "replacement" referees. The scene cited most often is the final touchdown in the Seahawks-Packers game where the media right away was screaming that the Packers got robbed.

They didn't.

By now you've seen the replays 1 million times - and the agenda of hating the replacement referees has colored virtually all analysis of that play to where people have overlooked the not-so-obvious - that MJ Jennings of the Packers never established control of the football; that Golden Tate never let go of the ball; that one-handed possession counts just the same as two-hand possession - just ask Randy Moss and David Tyree - and the tie ALWAYS goes to the receiver. As for the refs not calling offensive pass interference on that play - the reason they didn't is the same reason is isn't called any other time in a Hail Mary passing situation - it is NOT a callable penalty. It was the correct call.

We've already had speculation about how the referees controversy will affect Roger Goodell's legacy as NFL commissioner. The issue, though, is bigger than that. Goodell's handling of the referees does hurt his legacy - but not for the reason most think it does. What the referee deal shows is that when he's not a thin-skinned bully, Goodell is a coward. He knuckled under to the referees association instead of holding them accountable for making monetary demands far beyond their worth. And the veteran crew (led by Gene Steratore) soon tried to make themselves the show again in the Browns-Ravens game. While the officiating quality may look better than with the replacement refs, it isn't.

The issue with replacement refs was simply a mixture of communication issues (fixable) and inexperience at this level of football (also fixable, with more game time and better effort by the supervising team the league set up for every game); it was never a problem of understanding the game. The other quality the replacements brought was they let the players play - over and over the comment was made over the various games that defensive players were actually able to go after receivers instead of being called for penalty without reason. The games themselves were noticeably more competitively physical and scoring was mostly unaffected - the Giants-Buccaneers 41-34 shootout, the Titans-Lions 44-41 overtime thriller, the 38-31 Bengals win over the Redskins, the 31-30 Patriots-Ravens grinder, were all among the best games in years. The gripe about player fights was mostly hot air, with the Ravens showing their reputation for dirty and undisciplined play, a reputation they have periodically displayed regardless of who the refs are.

 The league should have stuck it out for the season with the replacement refs and worked far better than they seemed to do on communication issues. So where Goodell failed with the referees controversy was in knuckling under to the officials' union. It's the latest failure of leadership he has shown. The first was "Spygate," the scandal where the Patriots were accused of illegally videotaping opposing coaching staffs and their signals from the sideline. Goodell made it a massive controversy and the Mainstream Sports Media piled into his crusade against Belichick by never dissenting from him, even though the actual Article in the league constitution as well as related Miscelleneous Rules allow what Belichick was actually doing. Goodell, however, took it personally and went after the Patriots hard and did so by cherry-picking a league constitution he clearly hadn't read to justify smearing Belichick.

Years later he did it again with the New Orleans Saints over "Bountygate" - the allegation that players were taking side bets over hits on opposing players. Goodell smeared the Saints as practicing an assassination program - but the Saints players in question, after being suspended by Goodell, fought back - and won in court when the league's evidence consisted entirely of assumptions and accusations - and displayed mind-numbing ignorance of football, where a big part of the object is hitting.

The running controversies continue to raise questions about Goodell's competence to be Commissioner of the NFL, because what the world has seen is a thin-skinned bully whose knowledge of the game over which he lords is slipshod at best and this ignorance is driven by a moralistic rage. Truly the NFL needs to reexamine the competence of its Commissioner.  

UPDATE: Goodell's decision to hand over the Saints Bounty investigation to former commissioner Paul Tagliabue was surprising and also an indication Goodell may have seen he's in over his head.

UPDATE II: The inferior quality of the "real" referees was shown again with an atrociously wrong offensive pass interference call against Brandon Lloyd in the Patriots-Jets game by Jeff Triplette.

Lost in the controversy was this huge analysis proving Tate's touchdown was legitimate.