Happy Friday, friends. As you read this, it’s likely that I’ll be in the air headed to Cleveland, but I wanted to give you a little something, since I’ll be off the grid for a few days. I’ll be attending a wedding, and then driving back with my girlfriend to move her down to Florida.
I’ve occasionally mentioned over the years that I’m an alumni member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and by number of chapters, we’re the biggest Greek letter organization in the world. Among our football-related members are Terry Bradshaw, Phil Simms, Marv Levy, and Aaron Rodgers, and that’s not even getting to guys like Ronald Reagan, Elvis Presley, and many other famous people.
I bring this up, because fraternity men have a tendency to drink adult beverages (responsibly, of course) and sing songs with vulgar lyrics and subject matter. At my chapter at Cleveland State University, we have a song called Godiva, and we always dedicate the last verse to a brother. It goes:
“This next verse is dedicated to _______ _______. Oh listen to me ladies, oh listen to me please, never trust a T-K-E an inch above his knees. I trusted one last summer, and look what happened to me. THE SON OF A BITCH, HE LEFT ME WITH THE SON OF A T-K-E.”
The brother who gets this “honor” is the last one who is known to have impregnated somebody he wasn’t married to. If you’re unlucky, you can hold the crown for a couple years, since most of us are hip to a few strategies of contraception. One of my little brothers actually held it for two stretches over about a 4 year period.
Today, I want to dedicate this next verse, or this article as it were, to our faithful reader John Tomasik. He’s been trying to convince everybody that the replacement officials, err current officials, err scabs, aren’t so bad. Yesterday, he passed along some comments based on some stuff he heard on the radio:
I'm curious what the statistics would say about the replacement officials' performance. I heard 3 this morning, and they fall out as follows: penalties are down, replays are up, and, most importantly, overturned calls after replays are DOWN. Lol....maybe the fan base is just unjustifiably whining....
I don’t think that John is the delicate type, and in fact, he’s usually been a good sport about us disagreeing with him, so I am going to use his comment as inspiration, and write an article about why I disagree, without disparaging him personally.
Let’s begin by considering what the officials are hired to do. They’re required to always be in the correct spot, always see everything that’s happening on the field, and always penalize actions that violate the rules of the game. Even beyond that, though, they’re hired to establish and maintain order on the field.
Let’s talk about the number of penalties called in games. John’s comment that penalties are down suggests that he thinks that’s a positive development for games. In order to make that conclusion, you’d have to think that the game was over-penalized in the past. You’d also have to make the assumption that the game was being played in a manner consistent with the past, so you have an apples-to-apples comparison.
I don’t agree that the real officials over-penalized teams in past years. There’s one specific crew, the one refereed by Ron Winter, that I think sometimes focuses too much on ticky-tack stuff, but in general, I think that all of the crews get it right way more often than not. I also think that whatever bad calls do happen tend to even out.
The second assumption is flat-out wrong. The games are not being played the same as in the past. If you listen to players and coaches talk, the coaches are instructing their players to push the envelope, rules-wise, and the players are doing so. You can especially see this in the areas of offensive holding, hands to the face, egregious pick plays, and contact on receivers after five yards.
Did you catch which prominent player said on Wednesday that he loved the replacement officials? Cortland Finnegan said that. He’s getting away with all kinds of nonsense, beating up receivers, because the officials can’t or won’t call the penalties on him. This is one of the dirtiest players in the NFL, and he’s proud of that reputation, and when he thinks the officiating is favorable to him, that’s a bad thing.
Really, though, what does the number of penalties called tell us? Leave out the question of whether the game is over- or under-penalized, and think about that. The number of penalties called is effectively meaningless. A lot of feeble-brained talkers (and most radio-types are pretty feeble-brained) will talk about the number of penalties as if they’re like items, and can be counted fungibly.
It’s a lot easier to call offsides than it is to get pass interference correct at full speed. One is a five-yard penalty, and the other can be worth 50 or 60 yards. If you’re measuring the effectiveness of officials by number of penalties, though, they matter the same. It’s a completely silly way of looking at officiating quality. The only question that should matter is whether only the correct penalties, and all of the correct penalties, are being called.
Judging officiating quality by the the number of penalties isn't just a questionable methodology - Doug and I were chatting about this yesterday, and we agreed that it's the worst possible way to measure it.
It’s kind of beside the point, to some degree, but the radio guy that John listened to was wrong on his stats. I got some information from our friends at Pro Football Reference, and did some surgery on their data to make it comparable to this year.
Specifically, they were looking at average penalty numbers by “week,” and that takes into account weeks that have byes, and since there have been no byes in the first two weeks of 2012, it’s apples and oranges. What I did is change the measure to average per 16 games, and that makes it comparable to 2012, where there have been 16 games each week. Here’s the table:
|Penalty||2009||2010||2011||2012||09-11 Average||2012 Variance to Average|
|Defensive Pass Interference||11.1||11.9||12.8||20.0||13.9||6.1|
|Horse Collar Tackle||-||1.4||1.8||2.5||1.4||1.1|
|Illegal Block Above the Waist||7.9||6.7||7.1||8.5||7.5||1.0|
|Delay of Game||8.3||8.5||7.9||9.5||8.6||0.9|
|Defensive 12 On-field||1.8||1.4||1.8||2.5||1.9||0.6|
|Interference with Opportunity to Catch||0.1||0.1||0.3||1.0||0.4||0.6|
|Roughing the Passer||4.2||5.1||6.1||6.0||5.4||0.6|
|Neutral Zone Infraction||3.6||4.5||7.5||6.0||5.4||0.6|
|Offside on Free Kick||0.9||1.6||1.7||2.0||1.6||0.4|
|Roughing the Kicker||0.1||0.2||0.4||0.5||0.3||0.2|
|Fair Catch Interference||0.3||0.2||0.5||0.5||0.4||0.1|
|Illegal Blindside Block||-||0.1||0.1||-||0.0||(0.0)|
|Running Into the Kicker||0.7||0.4||0.5||0.5||0.5||(0.0)|
|Invalid Fair Catch Signal||0.1||-||0.1||-||0.1||(0.1)|
|Illegal Touch Kick||0.8||0.8||0.3||0.5||0.6||(0.1)|
|Defensive Delay of Game||0.4||-||0.1||-||0.1||(0.1)|
|Offensive 12 On-field||0.3||0.4||0.4||-||0.3||(0.3)|
|Illegal Forward Pass||0.4||0.4||0.3||-||0.3||(0.3)|
|Illegal Touch Pass||0.4||0.5||0.5||-||0.4||(0.4)|
|Player Out of Bounds on Punt||0.4||0.3||0.8||-||0.4||(0.4)|
|Ineligible Downfield Kick||1.3||0.8||1.2||0.5||0.9||(0.4)|
|Ineligible Downfield Pass||1.7||0.4||0.6||-||0.7||(0.7)|
|Illegal Use of Hands||2.4||2.3||4.6||2.0||2.8||(0.8)|
|Offensive Pass Interference||4.7||4.3||4.3||3.0||4.1||(1.1)|
|Face Mask (15 Yards)||6.3||4.8||6.4||4.0||5.4||(1.4)|
|Total Per Week||187.6||190.0||205.1||209.5||198.0||11.5|
The scabs are calling 209.1 penalties per 16 games, which is 11.5 more per 16 games than our three-year average. You can see that they’re calling more offensive holding, defensive pass interference, and personal fouls, and fewer offensive pass interference, illegal formation, and facemask penalties.
Remember, though - the job of the officials is to call the penalties that happen, not the same number as last year. Let’s consider illegal contact. For our three-year average, officials called 4.3 penalties per 16 games, and the scabs are calling 3.5. Not that big a difference, right?
The problem is that the act which should lead to an illegal contact flag, contacting a receiver more than five yards downfield, is happening at a much higher rate in 2012 than it did in those three years. The players and coaches don’t think that the officials can or will call it as much as it’s happening, so they’ve adjusted to that, and are playing a different style of coverage.
John’s radio guy said that replays are up, and overturned calls are down. John felt so emphatic about that point that he put DOWN in all caps, as if yelling it. Well, it turns out that we’re special here at IAOFM, and we have access to the official NFL stats that are distributed to the media, but not to the public. I’m going to use them to put some truth to this conversation.
First of all, the radio guy is right that reviews are way, way up this year. Check out this table (and no, I don’t know what the item marked “No” means.)
|Type||2009||2010||2011||2012||09-11 Average||2012 Variance to Average|
|runner was down by contact||0.12||0.17||0.13||0.56||0.14||0.42|
|runner broke the plane||0.15||0.18||0.31||0.59||0.21||0.38|
|runner was in bounds||0.05||0.05||0.09||0.31||0.06||0.25|
|too many players on field||0.02||0.01||0.02||0.09||0.02||0.08|
|loose ball recovery||0.02||0.02||0.05||0.09||0.03||0.07|
|illegal forward pass||0.02||0.00||0.01||-||0.01||(0.01)|
Now, there have been a couple of rule changes that are helping the number of reviews rise. In 2011, all scoring plays became subject to a double-check by the replay booth. In 2012, all turnovers were added to all scoring plays, so you’d expect to see two separate increases in the number of reviews per 16 games. In all cases, only those double-checks which required a game stoppage are shown in this data.
From 2010 to 2011, game-delaying reviews rose from 1.67 to 1.90 per 16 games. That means that only one out of every eight games had a review last year, which sounds low, but it speaks to the quality of the regular officials.
Let’s assume that all of the rise in reviews from 2010 to 2011 was related to the review of touchdowns. That increase totaled 59 reviews on 1,259 TDs, a rate of 4.7%. Let’s then apply that 4.7% rate to the 97 turnovers we’ve seen this year. We get 5 reviews that we would expect came from adding turnovers to the double-check rule. Five reviews in 32 games played should add 0.16 reviews per 16 games. We’re up by 3.23 reviews per 16 games. Do you see how that’s a lot?
Let’s also talk about the overturn rate, since John mentioned it. Here’s the data for 2009-2011, and also 2012.
|Type||2009||2010||2011||2012||09-11 Average||2012 Variance to Average|
|runner was down by contact||50.0%||61.4%||61.8%||61.1%||57.7%||3.4%|
|runner broke the plane||29.0%||30.4%||47.5%||36.8%||35.6%||1.2%|
|runner was in bounds||46.2%||25.0%||18.2%||40.0%||29.8%||10.2%|
|too many players on field||83.3%||33.3%||40.0%||66.7%||52.2%||14.5%|
|loose ball recovery||25.0%||25.0%||25.0%||0.0%||25.0%||-25.0%|
|illegal forward pass||40.0%||0.0%||50.0%||0.0%||30.0%||-30.0%|
If you wanted to be a disingenuous wanker about it, you could sort of accurately say that the rate of replay overturn is DOWN in 2012 from 2011, from 44.7% to 44.3%. Comparing it to the three-year average, though, the rate of overturn is UP (in all caps) from 40.6% to 44.3%. And that’s comparing rates, not raw numbers.
Think about it like this: the game is being delayed for replay reviews 2.9 times more frequently than in the last three years, and 44.3% of the time, the call is reversed. That means many more mistakes are being made, in a purely counting stats kind of way.
In any case, there’s nothing in the replay review numbers to suggest that the scabs are doing as well at their jobs as the locked out officials. This is another example of why you probably shouldn’t let radio people inform your opinions; there are an inordinate amount of dim bulbs in that medium, and many of them play fast and loose with the facts.
This is the most underrated and important aspect of the officials’ job. They have to establish and maintain order on the field, and I can tell you that the scabs are nowhere near up to the job. You can see it in all the chippiness that’s been going on among players. You can see it when a coach berates one of these poor fools, and they just take it. You can really see it when a Ray Lewis mean-mugs an official, and he throws a flag out of pure intimidation.
Look at all the conferences that delay games, and all the times that the game supervisor is pulling the referee over to the sideline to talk to them. These people do not have control of the games, and they never will be able to. It’s just like when you got a substitute teacher in school. Who cared what they had to say?
We used to act a fool when the subs came in. We had one named Pete Landry in tenth-grade English for a whole quarter, and we ragged the hell out of that poor guy. It seemed funny to call him Pete, and write songs about him, and draw disparaging pictures of him as a disco man. Twenty years later, I know it was juvenile and mean, but when it comes down to it, what we were doing was letting this guy know who was boss.
The players and coaches are doing the same thing. They don’t respect the scabs, and they’re letting them know. You want a good indication that what I am saying is true?
September 20, 2012: NFL reached out to the owners, general managers and head coaches of all 32 teams this week to advise them that the type of on-field behavior they witnessed last weekend will not be acceptable this weekend. Coaches such as Denver’s John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, along with San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh, were spotted berating officials in a way unacceptable to the league office. “We contacted them to remind them that everyone has a responsibility to respect the game,” NFL Executive Vice President Ray Anderson said Thursday night. “We expect it to be adhered to this weekend and forevermore.” The last time the NFL reached out to so many teams on an in-season issue it felt this important was an October weekend in 2010, when there were multiple helmet-to-helmet hits on unsuspecting receivers, including a violent hit from Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson that got him fined $50,000 for hitting Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson. After watching the coaches behavior with replacement referees last weekend, the league determined it was unacceptable and put everyone on notice. Asked what would happen if another coach berated another replacement referee this weekend, Anderson said, “If someone were to make that mistake, he would be flagged on the field and he would be hearing from our office in a very firm way.”
Adam Schefter obnoxiously tweeted that book chapter Thursday evening. The NFL is trying to crack down, but the fact remains that the scabs don’t have a chance in hell to be successful with controlling the games. John Fox may tone down his histrionics somewhat, but these guys know where he stands, I can assure you of that.
If I was really inclined to always favor the needs of corporations, I might take the attitudes that officials are commodities, and that they’re materially indistinguishable from each other. That’s as demonstrably wrongheaded as suggesting that giving a tax cut to a rich man will stimulate the economy. It’s understandable why an NFL owner would want to cut costs on officials (and would want a tax cut for the wealthy, for that matter) but the story you have to tell to justify either is completely and utterly false.
I’m not too motivated to cry for the officials, and I wrote an article a couple weeks ago suggesting correctly that they had no real leverage, and that they’d eventually cave. These guys aren’t going to lose the ability to feed their families over this lockout, and given that most have other jobs, they’re better positioned than players are to ride it out.
I can’t and won’t let the notion that the scabs are doing fine go unchallenged, though. They’re awful, and they’re only going to work. Despite the leverage environment, and the goals of both sides, the NFL is absolutely not protecting the shield by employing these scabs. Any suggestion that the owners are serving anybody’s interests except for their own is a delusion, or more likely, a bald-faced lie.