Sports Officials Need to Be as Accountable as Players

By John Feinstein
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October may be a great month to be a sports fan, but it most definitely has not been good month to be a sports official.

Let's just do a quick review of the most blatant officiating screw-up that have occurred so far this month:

-- Umpire Randy Marsh fails to see the ball hit the uniform shirt of Detroit's Brandon Inge in the 12th inning of the Tigers-Minnesota Twins American League Central Division playoff game. Because the bases were loaded the Tigers would have, at worst, taken a one-run lead into the bottom of the inning.

-- Umpire Phil Cuzzi somehow calls Joe Mauer's slicing line drive foul in the top of the 11th inning of Game 2 of the Twins-Yankees series when the ball was clearly fair by a foot. The call costs the Twins at least one run, and the Yankees win in the bottom of the inning on Mark Texeira's home run.

-- Officials in the LSU-Georgia game call "excessive celebration" on Georgia receiver A.J. Green after his late touchdown catch put the Bulldogs up 13-12. That helped give LSU superb field position after the ensuing kickoff. In a clear make-up call, the officials then flagged LSU running back Charles Scott for excessive celebration after he scored the winning touchdown. The Southeastern Conference admitted two days later that both calls were wrong.

-- The referee in the Navy-Air Force game made a ridiculous roughing-the-passer call on Navy, wiping out a Navy interception and allowing Air Force to tie the score as time expired. Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson was scrambling when he was hit an instant after releasing the ball. His coach, Troy Calhoun, described the call as " a gift." Fortunately for Navy and the referee, Navy won in overtime.

Some Redskins fans might like to see the muffed punt that set up the Carolina Panthers' winning touchdown Sunday added to this list, but the NFL rule makes it legal for a player who is blocking to be blocked into someone trying to make a fair catch. The NFL is kind of stubborn on rules-changes; the infamous "tuck rule," which saved the New England Patriots eight years ago, still exists.

The larger issue is this: Officials are not accountable enough. Too often they do not explain bad calls or controversial calls. Beyond that, they are rarely punished for mistakes, even if they consistently make them.

The first issue relates strictly to postgame media access. When it's relevant, fans have as much right to hear from officials as they do from players and coaches. Matt Holliday spoke to the media after he missed the fly ball in the lights in Los Angeles the other night, costing his team a game, and Nick Punto stood and talked to everyone who wanted to listen after his base-running gaffe in Minnesota on Sunday night. The kid from Air Force who missed a potentially game-tying kick in overtime against Navy not only spoke to the media, he took full responsibility for the loss.

Umpire Phil Cuzzi was represented by crew chief Tim Tschida, who said, "We hate it when these things happen to us."

Happen to them? How about what happened to the Twins because of Cuzzi's screw-up? At least Tschida admitted -- how could he not? -- that Cuzzi blew the call.

Randy Marsh still hasn't admitted his mistake on the Inge call. He claimed he had not seen a replay that showed the ball hitting Inge's shirt, making him the only person with an interest in baseball who hasn't. Worse than that, Mike Port, Major League Baseball's umpiring supervisor, said that if Marsh didn't think he got it wrong, then he must not have gotten it wrong.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company