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Archive for Wednesday, September 17, 2008

NFL should hire full-time referees

September 17, 2008

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Ed Hochuli likes to look good on the job.

Before Sunday you may not have known his name, but he's instantly recognizable on the field as the guy in stripes with the biceps that threaten to explode out of his short sleeves. In a recent interview, Hochuli said he practices announcing calls in front of a mirror so he'll look official when he gives them for real on TV.

He's apparently a fine referee, no matter what Norv Turner may believe. The NFL likes Hochuli so much that he's worked two Super Bowls, and he's developed a cult following that includes a Web site that asks the question "What Would Ed Hochuli Do?"

Right now the answer to that is: Stay as far away as possible from the San Diego Chargers and their fans. It was his call, after all, that took away a near-certain victory over the Denver Broncos and made Turner so livid that he refused to accept the referee's admission that he blew it.

Turner's anger had subsided some by Monday, but he still seemed to be having trouble digesting the fact his Chargers are 0-2 only because Hochuli couldn't get it right on a call that even Denver quarterback Jay Cutler said should have gone against him.

"Anything that we talk about or anything that is discussed in terms of any of the rules or any of the calls, isn't going to change the outcome of that game," Turner said. "That game is going to be 39-38, forever."

Forever is a long time, but Turner is right. No amount of complaining is going to change the score or the outcome, though the league did say Monday it may look into the rules after the season to try and prevent the same thing from happening again.

While the league's at it, it might also change its video company. The Chargers lost possession on a call earlier in the game that would have surely been reversed if only the on-field video feed the referee consults in contested calls had been working.

Blown calls, of course, aren't anything new in the NFL, even when the latest sophisticated technology to limit them is working. On any given Sunday in any given game there's a call or two that will have players and coaches at least muttering under their breath.

Some complain a little louder, which does little except make their wallets lighter. Titans coach Jeff Fisher was hit up for $12,500 a few years back for post-game remarks, while Pittsburgh owner Dan Rooney had to pay $25,000 after voicing his complaints publicly after a loss to Atlanta.

If the league is really serious about top-quality officiating, though, maybe it ought to quit hiring hobbyists and start employing people to do the job full time.

The NFL is the richest pro league around, with Forbes estimating just last week that each team is worth an average of $1 billion. But it is the only major professional league that uses part-time officials to call its games.

This gives the league wide flexibility in the hiring and firing of officials, and makes it less likely that they'll cause labor disruptions. But it only makes sense that someone working five days a week, 50 weeks a year, studying and practicing his craft would be that much better than someone who has to work a regular job, too.

Best of all, it would give Hochuli more time to practice in front of the mirror.

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