The 2021 season has been filled with reasonable complaints regarding the quality of NFL officiating from all 32 clubs — from players to head coaches alike — and the latest round is once again being led by the Dallas Cowboys, who want answers for at least two plays that helped (key word: helped) them lose a 25-22 nail-biter to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Following the game, wideout CeeDee Lamb joined defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory in reaming the officiating, and even two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott noted he’s become “accustomed” to questionable penalties/decisions from referees.
Two days later, owner Jerry Jones weighed in, and with quite the interesting stance. There has long been discussion on if the league would benefit from moving on from part-time officials and instead employing them full-time, but Jones isn’t fond of the idea. To put it more plainly, despite having often been on the losing end of flags over recent years, he’s flat-out against it.
“Well, you just don’t have enough support to have the conclusion that full-time would remedy the issues that we’re complaining about,” Jones told 105.3FM the Fan on Tuesday. “There’s nothing that says a full-time official will do better than a part-time official.
“The quality of the people that you get with part-time officials are outstanding. They are outstanding. These are some of the most accomplished people in professions or, if you will, in the the country. So I’ve never been convinced, me personally, that a part-time official that’s spending some of his time engineering wouldn’t be better than a full-time official. We’re talking about 17 games and the playoffs — nothing has convinced me that there would be that kind of an advantage.”
Jones then went one step further into the Upside-Down.
“Matter of fact, you might have less quality,” he added.
Let’s pause here for an obligatory “wut.”
Getting down to brass tacks, the underlying premise that’s often driven the league away from full-time officiating is the increased cost of doing so, and it remains the case to this day. The idea that giving someone the opportunity to focus solely on one item would somehow not grant them an opportunity to improve upon that item is disproved by common sense, logic and actual science — an example being texting and driving. Does making a driver put their phone down guarantee they’ll suddenly become better at driving?
No, but it exponentially increases the odds they might, by improving their focus on the task at hand and removing unneeded distractions. It’s simple psychology really, so to then pretend that driver would actually and somehow become worse by putting down their phone and paying more attention to the road is nothing short of a head-scratcher.
All said, even if you argue against full-time officials, what is inarguable is the current lack of sweeping accountability for calls/non-calls that are, at times, apologized for after the fact by the league’s front office. There are even instances in real-time when former leading NFL officials turned broadcasters point out errors and inconsistencies, the latter being another fixable issue that’s moving in the wrong direction.
“Honestly, some of these calls are starting to get a little crazy,” said Chicago Bears defensive end Robert Quinn recently regarding NFL officiating. “These refs seem like they’re controlling the game a little too much. If a play is clean and they’re throwing a flag over something that they thought they can change the game just by one flag, I mean, let guys play ball.”
“… If this was a couple years ago, half this stuff wouldn’t even be called, but now they’ve got some of these stupid rules and in the refs’ hands it can change at any given moment.”
And Quinn went one step further as well, one that aims at the knees of Jones’ argument.
“I think they need to go check the refs they’re hiring,” added the All-Pro pass rusher.
In dissecting the quantity and types of penalties levied from one officiating crew to the next, you’ll find a wildly cavernous difference how one group calls a game versus the other. It’s a career that comes equipped with a lot of subjectivity, yes, but the NFL has gone through a massive amount of changes over the years to try and remove as much of that subjectivity from the official’s laps as possible — e.g., the installation of replay and challenges, the ability for head officials at games to get calls from the league office in New York during a game to discuss/overturn an on-field call, etc.
So, sure, credit the NFL for its willingness to take steps necessary to improve the quality of officiating and, in turn, attempting to improve the quality of the product delivered to fans, but games are still being decided by questionable (and, at times, outright bad) calls that might be reduced greatly if officials were told to stop the proverbial texting and driving. That is the one big step the NFL is refusing to take, and until it does, the NFL vehicle will continue to randomly swerve into oncoming traffic.
Jones is a Hall of Famer responsible for a lot of the good in today’s NFL, but this is a reminder he’s also a part of some of the bad, because here’s the bottom line: the quality of the product might get [much] better if officials are made full-time, but it can’t possibly get any worse.