Opinion: The NFL STILL has an officiating crisis, and it needs to be solved ASAP

By Farah Bassyouni Jan 29, 2024

With January slowly slipping away, the National Football League is ending. Next Sunday, the AFC and NFC conference championships will take place before culminating with the Super Bowl on February 11. But between every headline of Taylor Swift’s most recent NFL outing or players astonishing performances, there are much uglier headlines that have become far too common within the last few years: referee controversies. Each week, a new mishap has happened between referee decision and player that enrages fans and continues to make the NFL more frustrating to watch. As an avid fan of the NFL myself (go 49ers!) I am especially astonished with how often it seems that officials simply cannot make good calls or give consistent results. With NFL football at an all-time high for viewership, it is imperative that the league solves this officiating crisis to save not only the integrity of NFL football but also to ensure that the NFL is here to stay.  

The first major factor to consider how we got to this so-called crisis is realizing that, despite over 270 games throughout the whole NFL season, a majority of referees seen working these games are not even classified as “full-time employees” by the NFL. Many critics point to this fact as a key factor to why these so-called “ref controversies” happen so frequently: referees do not need to be good refs to ensure their own well-being. This lack of a full-time designation seems almost absurd considering most other major sports leagues in the United States have far more matches (nearly 2500 per NBA season; just over 2,400 per MLB season) and employ full-time referees. What is similarly absurd is that despite working over 2000 more games than NFL referees, they make near identical estimated salaries. If NFL referees were given the opportunity (or simply forced) to work full time for the NFL, they would clear up lots of time in their schedules to devote to the intricate craft that is referring. This serves to benefit not only the fans and players, but also the NFL bigwigs that continually get flack for ref mishaps. This would also solve one of the most consistent complaints among NFL fans: lack of consistency among referee crews. If crews worked full time, they could similarly study film and be on the same page about what constitutes a penalty or not. This is extremely important considering how NFL policies change nearly every year on what is or is not a legal way to tackle a player. 

If the NFL switches to full-time officiating crews, they can also devote time and resources to improving the technology behind the game to improve the accuracy of calls being made in real time. The MLB uses technology in every single baseball used to track not only which plays there are used in, but also to double check how accurate refs are calling pitches after the game. This results in a more consistent product and more even playing grounds for players.   

The NFL is soon to become a worldwide phenomenon with the expansion of overseas games and the increased popularity of games being streamable online. To keep up with this demand and capitalize on fan engagement, the time is now for the NFL to cooperate with their referees and bring crews on full time.

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