Penalty Oddities

The service academies, Army, Navy, and the Air Force, have fewer “combined penalties” per game than the University of Miami, 9.3 to 9.8. It’s comforting to know the fingers that will push the nation’s future security buttons are their’s and not those of the Hurricanes, the very same team, which, until recently, wore military fatigue uniforms on road trips to show how “war ready” they were.


Last Thursday night in the San-Diego-Oakland NFL game, seven referees called 25 total penalties. Two days later, eight college referees threw only seven flags in the Marshall-Connecticut St. Petersburg Bowl. The colleges had eight refs and called far fewer penalties. Both games were hard played. It validated my feeling about refs being swayed by boisterous home town fans influencing their calls. The game in Oakland was played in front of a full house, rabid Raider Nation crowd, while the college game was seen by an announced 14,475, but in reality was probably half that. The few whistles that did blow reverberated throughout the Tropicana Dome sounding like eerie train whistles on a wintry night.

There are seventeen NFL officiating crews consisting of a head referee and six assistants, soon to be raised to seven, who make $170,000 per year for working part time. Assigned to games in privacy lest coaches track the numbers of calls each crew member makes and then plots to take advantage of their tendencies, i.e., double rush a tackle playing in front of an umpire who calls a lot of holding penalties, or throwing deep middle in the area of a back judge known to favor receivers on long route interference calls. No one knows their identity until they take the field ten minutes before game time.

The part time nature of NFL refereeing allows lawyers, salesmen, dentists, businessmen and teachers to augment what might be the most lucrative one-day-a-week avocation in America with a regular job. After each game, refs board a plane home, armed with a flash drive of that day’s game that they will watch to defend their actions lest NFL suits start asking questions over the next few days. Even the referee, the one official wearing a white cap, who has total responsibility over the whole crew, is part time. He is the guy behind the quarterback who makes sure the Brady’s, Newton’s, Wilson’s and Dalton’s are well protected from errant blows from those guys who played college football at Miami.

Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith is breathing a bit easier this week knowing that boastful blowhard and “Buffalonian Buffoon” Rex Ryan has passed the Bucs as the most penalized team in the NFL. Trailing late in the season in the only category they had a chance of winning, albeit negatively, Ryan inspired his troops to commit thirty penalties in the last three weeks. To the dismay of long-suffering Buffalo fans, Ryan will return again next year with as much bluster and even fewer wins. With the Jets heading north for a wild-card shot in that winter wonderland in Buffalo, watch former fired Jet coach “Von Ryan’s Penalty Express” go fully off the rails this week in seeking revenge.

Happy New Year!

5 responses to “Penalty Oddities

  1. Robert Chambers

    Hey Coach, Thank you for another informative piece. Wow I need a one day a week during only part of the year that pays like that! Although IMHO, having only experience as an umpire for boys/men & girls/women baseball and softball up to but not including high school, it is a tough and a bit thankless job (even though that pay seems good) to which there are endless critics and opinions. So while I choose to believe they are not swayed for the faith of believing I understand that on that stage the pressure has got to something I cannot even imagine.
    Happy New Year to y’all!

  2. Robert, studies of strike calls of MLB show that 14% of all strike calls are wrong and strongly favor the home team, especially late in the game. And that is in the pastoral, peaceful game of baseball, not the calamitous sport of football.

  3. I hope you are not suggesting that the NFL have “full time” referees. That would be ridiculous in my opinion.

  4. As I understand it and I may be wrong, the NFL in its on going quest for “image” let a lot of the older more experienced refs go in favor of trim, younger in-shape looking guys, and the results are painfully obvious.