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One of the biggest storylines of the 2022 NFL season is how bad the NFL referees were. From phantom roughing the passer penalties to missed calls in the Championship games, hardly a week went by without a bad call factoring into the outcome of a game. Being an NFL referee is a difficult job, and the truth is, they get it right more than they get it wrong. But don’t tell NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell his zebras are doing a bad job.

Roger Goodell defended NFL referees in 2023

As he does every Super Bowl week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made himself available to the media on multiple occasions to discuss the state of the league in 2023. A persistent question that came up — especially in light of some of the questionable calls of no-calls in the AFC Championship — was about the officiating.

When asked about the state of NFL referees in 2023, Goodell bristled at the notion that the league has a major problem with officiating.

“When you look at officiating, I don’t think it’s ever been better in the league,” Goodell said defiantly. “There are over 42,000 plays in a season. Multiple infractions could occur on any play. Take that and extrapolate that. That’s hundreds, if not millions of fouls — of potential fouls — and our officials do an extraordinary job of getting those.”

The commissioner did admit that there are occasionally “mistakes in the context of that,” but the league has mechanisms to address that in the form of booth communication and replay.

Goodell then specifically defended the play stoppage in the AFC Championship that gave the Kansas City Chiefs a do-over on 3rd-down. He said that type of play happens all the time, and the NFL referee in that game handled everything correctly.

In the end, the NFL boss summed up by saying, “Our officials are held to an incredibly high standard, and I think they meet it. Will we try to get better? You betcha.”

Is officiating bad in the NFL?

NFL referees, NFL, Roger Goodell
Roger Goodell and NFL referees | Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT

Goodell gave an excellent defense of his officials, and he was right on many points.

First, the amount that officials get right over the course of 42,000 plays is incredible. And he also mentioned that the job is harder than ever thanks to super slow-motion replays immediately available on TV. That’s true and makes what officials do even more impressive.

The biggest problem with NFL referees in 2023 is two-fold, and both come from the NFL, not the officials themselves.

One issue is that the league mandates the refs focus on certain things like roughing the passer and defensive holding. These can be game-changing plays, and when the league pushes them, officials call too many borderline penalties on these infractions.

The other issue is that the league uses All-Star teams for the playoffs. Instead of rewarding the best NFL referee and his crew with assignments, the league puts the highest-rated officials at each position (referee, umpire, down judge, line judge, back judge, side judge, field judge) on a crew, which leads to choppier officiating than in the regular season.

The NFL does need to make some changes, but more on the league side than on the officiating side. Because as much as fan bases like to complain, the NFL referees do get it right more than they get it wrong (sorry, Bengals fans).


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