NEWS: Criticism of National Football League officiating grows by the week.
VIEWS: It’s justified.
The more I watch pro football the more I’ve come to recognize that there are three teams on every playing field instead of the supposed two. The third team is the refs and they come out on top all too often.
The league keeps track of penalties and says that this season’s totals aren’t much different from those of past seasons, but they still seem to me to be more frequent and obtrusive. Every week there are several games whose outcomes depended on a questionable yellow flag, or lack of one.
Examples abound but one stands out—the phantom face-mask-grab call against a Detroit Lions’ defender on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers on what was supposed to have been the last play in a close Lions’ victory. Instead, the Packers got one more, untimed shot and completed an end-zone “Hail Mary” pass that changed the result. Replays showed the tackle in question to involve Rodgers’s uniform collar, not his helmet, but they weren’t fully clear, as often happens. My take is that the official who called it, knowing that a dozen or so TV cameras always are peering over his shoulders, decided that he’d rather err by commission than by omission. There’s been too much of that this year.
The blame for this, I think, doesn’t rest with the officials individually. Every football or basketball ref or baseball umpire I’ve known has been able and honorable, and conscientious to a fault. It’s the NFL that’s to blame for the Constant Replay culture it’s created by its growing use of video to conduct microscopic scrutiny of questionable plays.
Football is a game involving 22 large and ferocious men colliding in a confined space like so many protons in a particle accelerator. It simply isn’t amenable to such inspection, and it produces controversy as often as justice. Constant Replay makes NFL football more important than it is, puts a permanent monkey on field-officials’ backs and has turned the games into slogs. When I sit down to watch one I keep a crossword puzzle handy.
NEWS: Russia is barred from international track and field for systematically violating anti-doping rules. It could be excluded from the sport at next year’s Summer Olympics in Rio.
VIEWS: What else is new on the drugs front? And don’t expect any Olympics ban.
The revelations last month, sparked by a German journalist’s reports, were surprising even for a dope-jaded sport. In testing labs in Moscow and at Vladimir Putin’s Sochi Winter Olympics showcase last year, tests for at least 1,500 Russian athletes were destroyed before they could be confirmed, and hundreds of other positive tests were otherwise falsified or covered up. Agents of the FSB (successor to the KGB) posed as lab technicians to ensure that the real techs went along with the plan. Officials exacted bribes from individual athletes who tested positive to keep their identities secret.
Russia’s initial reaction to the disclosures was typical of the way it reacts to any international criticism: it angrily blamed “Western” interests for seeking to denigrate the mighty accomplishments of The Motherland. Interestingly, though, that posture quickly changed to one of conciliation and ostensible cooperation with a probe into the matter by WADA, the Canadian-based World Anti-Doping Agency. That signaled to many that the fix was in and there would be no Olympics ban. After all, the motto of all the big world-sports extravaganzas is that the show must go on no matter what the contestants are up to.
It’s no news that T & F is messed up. Lamine Diack of Senegal, the most-recent past president of the IAAF, the sport’s world governing body, has been criminally charged in France for receiving bribes to deep-six positive drug tests. (He’s also a member of the International Olympic Committee.) His successor Sebastian Coe, the former great British miler, until a few days ago was on the payroll of Nike, the sports-equipment giant. The IAAF recently awarded its 2021 World Championships to Eugene, Oregon, Nike’s headquarters city, via a no-bid contract. In sports corruption the world truly is joined.
NEWS: Teams with losing records will play in college-football bowl games this season.
VIEWS: It was bound to happen.
Back in the day there were the four major bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange and Cotton) and maybe a half-dozen strays. A bowl bid was a reward for a season well played, conferring membership in an exclusive club. Now there are 40 bowls, and with only 127 teams eligible for post-season play not enough with the required 6-6 won-lost mark or better could be found to fill them, so three 5-7 units (Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State) were drafted into action. They and the likes of Akron, Appalachian State, Middle Tennessee and Georgia Southern will be on your TV screens between now and January 1. Enjoy.
Such an outcome was inevitable because, in their never-ending search to milk greater revenues from the labors of their “student athletes,” our institutions of higher learning have stretched the bowl source until it snapped. There has been lots of tsk-tsking about the situation, and many wrinkled brows. There’s even been talk about reducing the number of bowls, but I don’t buy it. College revenue-sports’ schedules change in only one way—by getting longer. If we get the eight-team year-end playoff the pigskinheads are pushing, a couple of college teams will play 16-game schedules, just like the pros.
But hey!--here’s already not much difference between ‘em.