Paul Kuharsky: We Need To Hear From NFL Officials, Including A Sky Judge

The NFL really doesn’t want less conversation about officiating blunders.

It would take fewer officiating errors, for sure. But it’s long conceded that it’s a hard job. And mistakes will be made, controversy will arise. It is part of the game that the league will eat.

I arrive at that conclusion because, if they wanted fewer officiating controversies and they wanted the calls to be right more often, there are clear mechanisms to help fix the issues. The league office and the owners they technically answer to, however, don’t want to move to those mechanisms.

Therefore they do not want the issues fixed.

Let’s start with the idea of officiating transparency.

Coaches and players have wondered aloud – and in private conversations I’ve had – why they are subject to answering for everything they do. This includes every mistake they make. Meanwhile, officials disappear into their locker rooms and from stadiums silently.

Referees are available for pool reports through a procedure set up between the league and the NFL and the Pro Football Writers of America. These are never fruitful.

NFL Officials Offer Bogus Explanations

Here is what Carl Cheffers said after the Raiders-Chiefs game about the roughing the passer call against Chris Jones. For those who (somehow) didn’t see it, Jones took the ball from Derek Carr as he sacked him, and braced to limit the body weight that landed on the quarterback with his free hand.

“The quarterback is in the pocket and he’s in a passing posture,” Cheffers said. “He gets full protection of all the aspects of what we give the quarterback in a passing posture. So, when he was tackled, my ruling was the defender landed on him with full body weight. The quarterback is protected from being tackled with full body weight.”

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – OCTOBER 10: Derek Carr #4 of the Las Vegas Raiders is sacked by Chris Jones #95 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2nd quarter of the game at Arrowhead Stadium on October 10, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. Jones was called for a penalty for roughing the passer. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

Not The Only Horrible Call

And here is the explanation Jerome Boger offered for his roughing call against Grady Jarrett on Tom Brady.

“What I had was the defender grabbed the quarterback while he was still in the pocket, and unnecessarily throwing him to the ground,” Boger said. “That is what I was making my decision based upon.”

You see, gentleman, we understand the rule you are making the call based upon. You’re simply misapplying it.

If you would continue to talk after what you said, if you’d say, “But after seeing multiple television replays I can see that…” then we’d get some transparency, some honesty. Or let’s hear from Perry Fewell, senior VP of officiating administration, or Alberto Riveron, senior vice president of officiating.

We tend to soften on players and coaches who say “my bad” though I understand it would open up a whole other avenue of criticism, particularly with repeat offenders.

To a degree on roughing the passer, we have to accept a degree over officiousness. As Ross Tucker smartly pointed out, owners are going to protect starters at all costs, as backup quarterbacks on the field are simply bad for business.

A Solution To NFL’s Problem

No, Tom Brady and Derek Carr weren’t roughed and bogus penalties called were big factors against Atlanta and Kansas City.

The tradeoff will be made for the sake of “protecting” them to protect us from seeing Jarrett Stidham or Blaine Gabbert.

In terms of really fixing the issue, a sky judge would solve it.

Put an official in the booth watching the game on TV. Let him pause the game, briefly, in such circumstances, and buzz Cheffers or Boger to say, “no, we missed that, pick up that flag.” The ref then announces, “With further information the sky judge says there is no foul,” and boom the game continues.

The mantra should be “Get it right.”

And it just doesn’t seem high enough on the priority list. It won’t slow things down too much, and I think we’re all OK with an extra minute there if it means Chris Jones and Grady Jarrett don’t draw penalties that all of America knows are bogus. The NFL needs a three-hour package, though.

Even Tom Brady Recognizes The Ridiculousness

Brady, the guy Boger and the league was protecting on the first of these atrocious calls, knows just how bad it is.

Before the start of 2021, he sympathized with defenses.

“The quarterback messes up, doesn’t see the blitzer, or the line screws up — I don’t know what happened, the quarterback or the lineman on offense,” he said. “The defensive player comes in and hits him hard and they throw a flag on the defense…”

“I feel like they penalize defensive players for offensive mistakes.”

We know things that make us feel better and actually solve the problems: More officiating transparency where they answer for what they call – an eye in the sky – who can easily correct obvious errors.

The league thinks keeping officials hidden and above questioning is a better way to go. They fear a sky judge might be seen as a game-manipulator and could slow games down.

Hey suits, break out of your old thinking and replace it with that mantra: Get it right.

Paul Kuharsky hosts OutKick360. Read more of him at PaulKuharsky.com.

Written by Paul Kuharsky

Paul Kuharsky is an award-winning writer who has covered the NFL for over 22 years in California, Texas, and Tennessee, and also is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After ESPN, PK came to join the longest running trio in Nashville Sports Talk in 2012.

3 Comments

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  1. This is basically the same argument every football fan makes weekly. Sort of comical in this day and age and the Ref goes and looks on the old screen under the hood deal. When every fan watching tv in America has already come to the just conclusion.

  2. Let’s adopt officiating processes from European Rugby. The official on the field and the “Television Match Official” routinely discuss plays without stopping play unless necessary. Here’s the kicker – it’s all 100% transparent…the viewers hears all conversations they have. Officials even review plays on the stadium big screens so the fans see what the officials see…not a tiny one off to the side.

    But hey, the NFL is a business first…so private conversations that can change the direction of a game in favor of more $$$ will always take priority.

  3. Are we to assume the “Sky judge” is more competent than the refs on the field? How many times have we watched a replay, see something was a catch or TD with certainty, only to have the refs still make the wrong call?

    Get better officials, or make the current officials better. Clearly, there is no actual penalty for being bad at your job as a ref. If you get fined for awful calls, or ultimately lose your job, maybe that would motivate refs to be better. It seems to work for the players and coaches

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