The XFL’s reentry into the sports world proved to be a fascinating saga for a brand that famously failed years ago. While the football league, like so many others, is currently suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s already shown some lessons the NFL could learn from.
None of these actions are more notable than the way the XFL treats referees and their blown calls.
The NFL’s referee conundrum
Every league handles mistakes made by in-game officials differently. The NBA releases a detailed report about the last two minutes of close games to either confirm or deny controversial calls.
The MLB has been a mixed bag when it comes to handling human error. It famously suspended umpire Fieldin Culbreth after a blown call in a 2013 game, according to Sports Illustrated.
The NFL faces a similarly mixed bag, too. Sometimes, the league takes action, like the time it fired referee Hugo Cruz after a missed call in the 2018 season. However, other times, such as the infamous blown call that cost the New Orleans Saints a Super Bowl visit, a referee faces little recourse when it comes to admitting an error.
Roger Goodell is known for being wishy-washy on everything from suspensions to blown calls. His actions regarding one event don’t always mesh with his actions about another. It drives players, media, and teams crazy. If Goodell wants to get in everyone’s good graces, he may want to look to a new competitor, the XFL, for guidance.
What does the XFL do differently than the NFL?
In an early-March game pitting the Seattle Dragons against the Houston Roughnecks, the latter’s quarterback P.J. Walker took a knee on the fourth down at his own 23-yard line. He hoped the Dragons would have to initiate play there with just two seconds left on the clock. The referee, however, said Walker did so after his time expired and ended the game.
This meant the Dragons did not have a chance to get the ball down the field and potentially tie the game. Rather than hoping the controversy would dissipate, the XFL released a statement addressing the problem and explaining exactly what would happen to the official who missed the call.
“Replays showed clearly that the knee of Houston quarterback P.J. Walker touched the field, rendering him ‘down’ and the fourth-down play officially completed, with approximately two seconds remaining on the clock — effectively turning the ball over to Seattle on downs,” the league tweeted. “The XFL sincerely regrets this error. In addition, Wes Booker, who served as officiating supervisor for Saturday’s game, has been reassigned.”
This methodology is a refreshing practice in transparency. While the Dragons have every right to be upset, they now know referees, like players, need to remain on their toes.
What can the NFL learn from the XFL?
Nobody expects referees to be perfect. They do not always have the luxury of close up, slow-motion replays that clearly show which way a call should go. Instead, they must make decisions on the fly based on what they see. However, in late-game situations, referees must ensure that avoidable mistakes like this don’t happen.
By publicly acknowledging the error, the XFL showed the transparency fans have asked from the NFL for years. Now in suspension, the XFL’s future is a question mark. Regardless of what happens, the NFL should look at things like this and use them to its advantage. The last thing it needs is another Saints-versus-Rams situation.
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