Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 12/23/11
While the Texans' loss to the Colts Thursday night was not caused by the officials, they contributed. Yet, they did nothing wrong. They made calls that they have to make or they could lose their jobs. That is the problem with officiating in the NFL that sets it considerably behind other pro sports like the NBA, NHL and MLB. NFL officials are part-timers with no union to protect them. There is no room for common sense like there is in the NBA and NHL. In the NBA, officials do not always follow the letter of the rule book if infractions that could be called do not affect a play and might interfere with the flow of the show. They try to be accurate on fouls that affect shots or possession, but generally let the players use their physicality against each other on the boards or when battling for possession. This year they are trying to determine if an offensive player initiated the contact in making charge-block calls. In other words much of the officiating is common sense. The same is true with the NHL. The last thing an NHL official wants to do is determine the outcome of the game. As in the NBA, when the game is close and goes down the line the whistles won't blow as much. In Major League Baseball the goal is to make every call correctly. There are fewer of the old "neighborhood" plays in which runners were often called out on the bases if the throw got to the base before the runner even if an actual tag or base was missed. Yet the home plate umpire will often be questioned. Major League players quickly learn what the strike zone is that night and if it doesn't exactly fit the rule book definition, they have long learned to adjust. They just don't want to be surprised with a different call for the same pitch late in the game. In the NFL the league and the officiating supervisors require all the officials to follow the book exactly. If there is helmet-to-helmet contact the penalty is automatic no matter how it happened. Intentional, incidental or minor the officials are not allowed to judge. They have to throw the flag. Quarterbacks, kickers, punters and even receivers are given automatic protection even if the contact was simply made by a clean play. Officials are far too evident in the average NFL game. Yet, they are so because they have to follow the rules with no exception. If NFL officials were organized, and more importantly full-time employees, the game would be a lot better for it. This is in no way a plea to make the game rougher and result in more injuries. It is simply a request that the officials be given the right to interpret what they see. They can do it somewhat on contact between the kickers and defenders. But even so, we see too many flags for contact that was instigated by the kicker himself in many cases as a result of a great acting job. In no way should dirty play be accepted. Players who use the helmet as a weapon should certainly be penalized. Incidental contact as a result of hard play should not be. This is football, which is a contact sport. Protecting quarterbacks sounds like a good idea. Yet, the two quarterbacks the Houston Texans lost this year went out as a result of a fluke broken bone in the foot (Matt Schaub) and a normal tackle (Matt Leinert). Neither was hurt as a result of excessive contact. If the NFL is so concerned about helmet-to-helmet contact, it is time to go back to helmets that are used to protect the head only. Hmm, that sounds like leather to me instead of hard plastic. In the leather helmet days players didn't even think of using their heads as weapons. They didn't even wear face masks. They still had injuries, but I'd like to compare the number of concussions from the 1940s and 50s to now. Maybe let quarterbacks wear plastic and everyone else leather. I'm grasping for answers here. The officials just have too much to do with too many games. Still, I would rather the officials be given the leeway to determine whether a player uses his head as a weapon or simply has incidental contact. There would be some "no-calls" that would make fans unhappy. But the game would be better because the calls that are made would have legitimacy.
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