Corruption in Refereeing

Elaina Zabkowski

Sports are America’s pastime, but if we keep letting bias grow, are sports going to be fun to watch anymore, knowing that the outcome has already been predetermined by the referee?

There are endless examples of bad calls in sports, but I will be focusing on the National Football League (NFL), college basketball, and Major League Baseball (MLB).

NFL referee Jerome Boger has had multiple questionable calls, but I will be concentrating on three fairly recent calls he made.

The first call is from last season’s playoffs in a wild-card game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Las Vegas Raiders.

Referees blew a whistle while Bengal’s quarterback Joe Burrow completed a touchdown pass. The whistle caused confusion among Raider’s players who assumed the play didn’t count.

Due to the whistle, the play should have been called dead, but it was not. The Bengals later ended up winning this game, advancing them to the next round of the playoffs.

The next call is from a week four game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Buffalo Bills.

Ravens’ cornerback Brandon Stephens was called for roughing the passer on a Bills drive, which gave them the opportunity to win the game with a field goal. However, replays show that Stephens did not make indisputable direct contact with Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s head/neck area.

The last call is from a week five game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady was sacked during the game but is shown saying something to Boger, and after they talk, Boger throws a flag and calls roughing the passer on Falcons’ defensive lineman Grady Jarrett. The flag occurred with three minutes left, which extended the Buccaneer’s drive and let them win by running the clock out.

Boger is just a single referee who hasn’t been the best, and it is not just him; however, he is the most infamous referee for making bad calls. If we have multiple bad referees plaguing the games and their outcomes, will people want to watch the NFL anymore?

In college basketball, there has been a lot of controversy over the past March Madness tournament and if refereeing has been fair in these games. And yet, the National College Athletics Association (NCAA) says that everything is fine and refereeing is as better than ever!

Although I will not be focusing on one specific referee, all the calls I will be talking about are in second-round games coincidently.

The first call is in a game between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Baylor Bears.

The trouble began when a North Carolina player elbowed a Baylor player in the face. The referees called a flagrant foul, which was the right call.

Later in the game, similar pushing and shoving took place between the two teams, and no referees made a call. When they did call fouls, they were mostly called against North Carolina. Even with some unfair refereeing, North Carolina still ended up beating Baylor.

The next game was between the Houston Cougars and the Illinois Fighting Illini. Illinois guard R. J. Melendez got a technical foul for hanging on the rim after a dunk, even though he barely hung on that long and his momentum from the dunk required him to hold on if he didn’t want to hurt himself. Illinois ended up losing the game 68 to 53.

The last game was between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. A Texas Tech player grabbed the rim before dunking the ball and this is considered basket interference, but it went uncalled. Replays even show veteran official John Higgins looking right at the play as it happened.

Texas Tech won that game, 59 to 53.

Higgins also happens to have gone into the Big 12 Hall of Fame this past summer. He has long officiated Big 12 games. Texas Tech is a member of that conference, so there is no reason he should ever be allowed to call that game during a national tournament.

Umpires in the MLB have been historically not the greatest, blowing many strikeouts and making bad calls on plays, so I will be focusing on examples from umpires Nick Marhley, Doug Eddings, and Angel Hernandez.

Marhley called strike three on Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols when it was only strike two. Eddings missed a record high of 29 calls including six blown strikeouts in a game during a Blue Jays/White Sox series. Hernandez has had so many bad calls in his career that there are compilations on YouTube of his bad calls.

So, why is this happening? Why is officiating so unfair? I believe that examples like these point to sports betting, bad training, and the lack of repercussions.

Sports betting has become more popular than ever, with much more advertising for online sportsbooks allowing gambling to become a normal part of life. Teams that are favored in my examples are almost always the ones that bad refereeing helps.

it seems to be a common theme that favored teams get more calls their way.

I believe that the NFL and college basketball are affected by this aspect more so than the MLB. I think the MLB is more affected by inadequate training.

You probably think that people have to go through rigorous training to become referees, but that’s not always true. Though the NFL does have very high standards, MLB and college basketball officials don’t have the greatest requirements.

To become an umpire for MLB, you have to attend a school for about five weeks and then the top prospects are selected for another week of evaluation.

To become a college basketball referee, all you need is some prior high school refereeing experience, then you can register with the NCAA and take the officiating exam. You will start in lower divisions and work your way up.

Though these requirements might seem slightly difficult, it is nothing compared to the ten years of prior experience that is required by the NFL to even be considered. In addition, out of those ten years, at least half have to be major college games.

On top of sports betting and poor training, referees rarely get punishments for bad games, so it doesn’t encourage referees to continue improving their skills.

In addition, without consequences for bad calls, it will continue to allow referees to become more and more corrupt if it isn’t taken care of.

But how do we fix it?

Well, a popular potential solution for MLB is to have robot umpires calling pitches. While this seems like a viable solution, it takes away most of the catcher’s job, as their job is to try and frame pitches to make them look like strikes to fool the umpire. If we just use a computer, there is no point in having a catcher, only to catch the pitches and occasionally pick people off.

I don’t think sports betting will ever go away, but I do think officials should have better training and if they consistently make bad calls, they should face repercussions for it, such as pay deductions, or maybe having to go back for more training.

I think that there should be a longer school session and there should be several tests that officials have to pass each year. I think current training isn’t long enough, and since you only need to pass the test once, it can lead to slacking in the later years. If the test is made an annual thing, it will make officials more consistent, in my opinion.