NFL referees throw record-breaking amount of flags

NFL referees throw record-breaking amount of flags

Photo Credits: KEITH ALLISON / FLICKR. Licensed under [(CC BY-SA 2.0)] / Caption: NFL officials discuss a call during the Cardinals at Redskins game on December 17, 2017.

First five games of NFL season have been riddled with infractions

Through the first five weeks of the National Football League this season, teams have combined for a total of 1,458 penalties. That equates to an average of 18.69 penalties called per game, a laughable rate of one penalty for every three minutes and 12 seconds of game time. 

As the NFL continues to make strides toward making the game safer, it has slowed the pace of the game. Through the first five weeks of play last season, there were 1,288 penalties called in 78 games, a previous all-time high. In addition, certain penalties reached record numbers, such as offensive holding, which was called a total of consequently reached career peaks, last season concluding with 555 times last year. Through the first five weeks this year, offensive holding has already been called 218 times. 

As the league continually pushes referees to do everything in their power to protect star players, it has made the game immensely frustrating for fans and players alike. During the week of three Thursday Night Football games between the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars, the barrage of yellow flags even grew the ire of superstar Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, who took to Twitter to vent his displeasure.

“Too many penalties. Just let us play!!!!  #TENvsJAC,” Brady wrote in the first tweet. He then followed with: “I’m turning off this game I can’t watch these ridiculous penalties anymore #TENvsJAC.” 

Most likely stemming from Brady’s tweets, the NFL’s Senior Vice President of officiating, Al Riveron, held a conference call with 17 referees on Saturday night to discuss the frequency of penalty calls, according to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert. Evidently, offensive holding penalty rates since then have been significantly lower. 

This situation is far from the norm, however, as the FOX NFL announcer Troy Aikman put it after seeing Brady’s tweet. 

“He is league royalty,” Aikman said. “And when he makes a statement like that, that should get somebody’s attention. I agree, this is ridiculous — again, this week.” 

Although offensive holding penalties have since gone back to a more reasonable level, it’s intriguing to see that many other penalties, such as defensive holding, defensive pass interference and illegal hands to the face, are all surging as well. Dean Blandino, an in-game rules analyst for Fox Sports, discussed the uptick in penalties. 

“I think you’re looking at a couple of culprits,” Blandino explained. “Offensive holding is up significantly. Defensive holding is up significantly. Defensive pass interference is up significantly. Illegal hands to the face — these are the fouls that have the biggest increases compared to last year.” 

Blandino continued to note that the situation is still murky without an exact course of action to fix said issues.  

“If you [as head of officiating] assign a whole bunch of ‘no-calls’ — those are infractions that should have been called — to an officiating crew after a game, then the next week they’re probably going to call more fouls. That’s just a reality of the evaluation/grading system. And it certainly is a factor as it pertains to these penalty numbers.” 

He added: “I think about how officials are trained and evaluated today, compared to even when I first started at the NFL 25 years ago. It’s night and day. The resources they have — the video, the technology, the reps. Officiating is getting better, as you say.”

In essence, getting penalties called correctly should ultimately be a good thing. But when there’s a monumental, sudden increase, fans are going to notice. 

“Certainly people are noticing,” Blandino said. “Certainly it impacts the game.” 

Another rationale for why there’s been such an uptick in penalties is the marketing aspect of it. Penalties in and of themselves don’t take any time being called, it’s the discussion and possible replay that elongate the game. In calling more penalties, game broadcasts have more TV timeouts, inevitably making the league more money from advertising revenue. Which then poses the question: Is the league calling an obscene amount of infractions purely for profit? Football fans everywhere hope not, but only time and the rest of the season will tell. 

Written by: AJ Seymour — sports@theaggie.org