As often happens, a topic we begin covering here turns out to be a trend that the national media eventually comes around to cover, and so it is with the NFL’s penalty epidemic, which is the subject of Drew Magary’s weekly football column today:
What has changed are the rules themselves. It was back in 2013 when the NFL decided to look like it was doing something about brain injuries, so they instituted harsher penalties for kill shots on QBs and defenseless players, and that has led to a brand of football that is ostensibly “safer” in the NFL’s mind while not being particularly enthralling to watch. In other words, this increase in penalties is something of a necessary evil, at least as far as granting you, the NFL fan, the delusion that you’re watching a kinder, gentler sport.
They’re not gonna go back to 2011 and let those shots happen all over again (unless Cam Newton happens to be playing). But what the NFL can do is find a way to compensate for those extra stoppages in other ways. They can ease up on holding penalties for defensive backs and linemen. They can ditch replay. And, most crucial, they can take the goddamn microphones from the refs.
You and I have sat through miserable games where the ref has to announce so many penalties that they become the de facto emcee of the game. I have seen Ed Hochuli during football season more than my own family. And what is really the benefit of having him out there to give a 10-minute stemwinder on some dumb replay? I know the NFL thinks that explaining a call in detail will help provide clarity to fans, but fans are drunk and miserable and will disagree with any call that goes against their team, even if it’s a proper call (I know I do). All mic’ing the ref does is draw even more attention to officials who ought to be invisible during the telecast. Need to know the exact penalty and who it’s on? The PA guy and the TV announcers can do that on the ref’s behalf. Need to justify a ticky-tack call? Let the ref do that in the postgame. Need to overturn a call? Use a hand signal. There is nothing a ref can say that’s gonna make me happy. I want him fucking GONE.
If the NFL really needs this uptick in penalties, the least they can do is minimize the attention drawn to them. It’s a cheat, but muting the refs is an easy way to make these penalties less visible. It also eliminates the danger of any ref going full GLORY BOY and becoming addicted to the power of holding the mic, like they’ve anointed themselves god of the proceedings. If I were a ref, I’d treasure my time on the mic like it was the birth of my child.
And if there’s lingering confusion from a call because the mics have been taken away, that frustration usually goes away a few plays later, when there’s something new to be angry about. I can also assure you that hearing Jeff Triplette explain himself does NOTHING to ease that confusion. Basketball and baseball do fine with officials who are hilariously inconsistent but also gratefully silent. The NFL could stand to follow suit. This is a league that abhors distractions, a league that is pathologically obsessed with getting people to focus on the game. And yet, they allow distractions to pollute these very same games with near-constant whistles and speechifying. Get Hochuli off the mic, get the focus back on the players doing cool shit, and get the fuck out of the way.
Here are the numbers from week eight:
As was the case last week, the 2017 flag rate continues to fall while still staying well ahead of any in recorded history.*
* The NFL Penalty Tracker has data going back to the 2009 season.
Waive that flag: Is this still a thing? (NFL 2017 week seven penalty update)
Waive that flag: Alberto’s favorite things (NFL 2017 week three penalty update)
Waive that flag: NFL week two penalty update (2017)
Waive that flag: The NFL returns with zebras on parade