The Publicly Grading Officials Debate… Open the Book of Secrets

Read the opposing argument from and Loyal Homer.

Athletic competition is passionately followed by millions of people.

The reason for this passionate following is that at its very basic level, athletic competition is a battle of skill between two of the top performers in a particular field. And when one person or team arises victorious out of the competition, that victory comes strictly on the merits of the athlete’s performance.

To help ensure the integrity of that athletic competition within each of those major sporting events, there is a governing process where officials work to ensure fair play among the competitors. These officials are supposed to serve as observers, ensuring that all conditions during the competition remain equal so that the person or team with better skill is the one that will ultimately win the day. These officials are NOT supposed to directly influence the outcome of the game.

But far too often we hear about situations where the officials are doing just that.

Here we sit in the middle of a postseason that should be celebrating some of the greatest postseason pitching in MLB history, and many headlines are still being dominated by officiating mistakes and inconsistencies.

Shifted strike zones, blown calls on stolen bases, and highlight-reel caliber catches that didn’t count have led directly to game-changing plays that may well have altered the course for the entire MLB postseason. But there IS something that can be done to help address the issue of poor or inconsistent officiating (and I am not referring to expanded instant replay, which actually would not have applied to correct many of the blown calls from the past few weeks).

At the end of each season, the officials in each of the major sports are graded in their performance, but no one ever sees these grades, nor do we ever know what is being done (if there even IS anything being done) to address those situations when an official fails to make the grade. So if you want to reduce the number of concerns related to poor officiating, I have an easy fix – Tell us what those grades are, and tell us what you are doing about them!

I am not suggesting a witch hunt, where the most grievous offenders are stalked by a mob of pitch-fork toting villagers seeking justice. But we as fans DO want to believe that the groups like the NFL and MLB are actively working to address the poor performance concerns of their officiating crews, in an effort to improve the quality of the game the NEXT time that official steps onto the field. But how can we have that assurance if we don’t even know what is being done?

Every other aspect of every major sporting event is transparent, so why not this?

Whenever a player performs poorly on the field, the corrective action taken by the organization to address that poor performance is public. The player may have his time cut, he could be benched, or even released altogether by the team.

Likewise, when a coach or general manager fails to build or maintain success on the field, the corrective action taken by the organization is public. We as fans can see that the poor performance is being addressed, and we then have a standard by which to measure how successful the steps taken by the organization were.

We may not always like the outcome, but at least we can be given the assurance that the poor performance is not being tolerated, because we become more informed and can see exactly what is being done by each sports organization.

Yet many of the actions taken to improve officiating in these major sports are still foolishly kept secret, which frustrates both the fans and the players who want to believe that officials are held to the same high standards of consistently solid performance that the athletes themselves are.

The system as it exists today lacks any appearance of accountability.

Officials can commit grievous errors one week, then show up in stripes at the next competition as though no issues ever arose. And the more that those officials continue to make mistakes, the more we as fans develop the notion that the poor officiating is actually being TOLERATED, rather than addressed and corrected, because there is no visible action being taken to resolve the issue.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Simply by publishing the officials’ grades at the end of each sports season, organizations like the MLB and the NFL would succeed in letting the fans, players, and owners see not only those officials who failed to perform up to an acceptable standard, but it would also let those same people know what is being done to address those poor performance issues.

We can accept that people (yes, EVEN referees, umpires, etc.) will make mistakes. And as much as we may complain about how technology can reduce or eliminate the flaw of human error, we can nevertheless accept it as a very real part of the different games we all love. All we are asking for is that the leagues begin to demonstrate the accountability of their respective officials.

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