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SEC Banter: College and professional referees growing overly flag-happy
Ben Prevost writes SEC Banter weekly for The Times during the college football season.

The following paragraph should be read in a football referee’s dry voice, with a referee’s hand motions/pointing, and typically smug attitude:

“Personal foul, on the refs, diminishing the game’s enjoyment by throwing too many flags. That’s a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down for the fans.”

That’s right:  I’m calling a penalty on the refs. But unfortunately for us fans, an automatic first down isn’t fair compensation.

Plus, I’m not sure how awarding us a first down would actually work, practically speaking.

Charged with maintaining fairness and integrity of the game we love, referees have, as of late, harmed the sport by calling every little infraction possible. Flags litter the field early and often.

Admittedly, refs are easy targets of criticism. They are human (so I’m told) and inevitably miss calls. Officiating a football game is an inherently subjective job requiring on-the-spot decisions in hostile environments with high stakes.

Mistakes, blown calls, blown no-calls, poor game management — it all happens. Hopefully, the gaffes even out among teams over time. An old coach of mine once said, “If you blame a loss on the refs, you didn’t do enough to win in the first place.”

No penalty for innocent mistakes. Reasonable mistakes in officiating, as in life, are tolerable.

It’s the frequency of penalties that compels me to penalize the refs.

Officials at the college and NFL levels are now serial flag-throwers. Penalties are called literally on almost every play of consequence.

On a big third and long in a crucial situation, a quarterback must simply heave the ball in the general area of a receiver. If a defensive back makes the slightest contact with the receiver, odds are a flag is thrown for defensive pass interference.

Automatic first down, automatic diminished enjoyment of the game.

This past weekend, I gathered with childhood friends in my hometown of New Orleans to watch the Saints host the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.

Penalty flags appeared with such regularity that, after every successful Saints play, we’d all joke a flag was forthcoming.

Sure enough, it turned out our jokes weren’t jokes at all, but instead accurate predictions of the refs’ flag-happy tendencies.

A big run! Whoops, spoke too soon: phantom holding, 10-yard penalty, repeat 2nd down.

Awesome coverage by that DB! Nope: he touched the receiver .000001 second before the ball arrived, pass interference, automatic first down.

We’re pressuring the quarterback and disrupting his rhythm! Not so fast: that hit looked too solid, roughing the passer, 15-yard penalty.

Refs must be compensated on a per-flag basis. Or, like most things plaguing society, plaintiffs’ attorneys are behind it somehow.

Here’s an idea: throw less flags! When in doubt, keep the flag in the pocket. Let them play unless it’s an obvious, glaring foul.

Another radical idea: exercise some good old-fashioned common sense when it comes to calling penalties.

Call holding when players are actually held, interference when players are actually interfered with, roughing the passer when the passer is actually roughed, not breathed on.

Player safety is paramount, to be sure. And so is the fundamental fairness of consistently enforcing the rules.

Rules are put in place when people aren’t capable of using common sense. We know football can’t be played without rules, but common sense suggests against flagging every minor technical violation to the point it diminishes the overall quality of the product.

Penalty on the refs for calling too many penalties. So, how to fairly compensate us fans?

SEC Banter suggests the following if refs cross the common sense line this weekend:

  • Lifetime supply of Chick-fil-A (duh)
  • Unlimited charges to the Underhill account
  • Time machine to the year 1985
  • Bring John Candy back to life

While I’m on a roll, I’m throwing a flag on the college football season for unnecessary boringness.

The top 5 or so college football teams are okay and generally tolerable to watch. But outside of a few games, this season is a snoozer.  Borrrring.

I’d rather listen to Ben Stein’s monotone lecture on “voodoo economics” from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off than sit through another boring weekend of the 2019 college football season.

But hey, not to worry, we’ve got Utah State at LSU, Troy at Missouri, and Vanderbilt at Ole Miss to keep us happy this weekend!

Penalty on college football, unnecessary boringness, results in a time machine to transport us to 1985.

Yes, please. 

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