Another week, another officiating controversy. For a country that hates unions as much as we do and makes sure they receive as little power as possible in most cases, the NFL officiating union must have some dark summoning power to keep being this shit and have the NFL just continuously roll with it.

There has been no shortage of “Refs bad” comics here. I’ve made quite a few of those over the years. Bad officiating is always present in any sport. Bad calls will happen every year. There will always be officiating controversies and the job of an official is not easy and I will never suggest it is. But there’s no way to escape the feeling that the NFL officiating is just getting worse and worse and has been declining for quite some time. These days it genuinely feels like we get a “replacement ref” moment every week. There are calls and obvious flubs that occur in every game now that sent us into a tizzy in 2012 (Christ it was really that long ago?).

This past weekend saw the newest edition of Refs Bad, when they failed to properly announce the Lions pass catcher eligibility. The NFL doubled down, claiming the Lions were using deliberate obfuscation tactics to try and disguise and confuse the Cowboys on the upcoming play. Besides being a…tenuous claim at best, it doesn’t fucking matter. The player who was eligible reported, the player they announced was wrong, and the play got removed when the refs figured it out. The ref’s job is to announce the reporting player to the crowd/other team. The ref failed. The ref called the name of the guy jogging out and not the guy who actually reported, despite Campbell even going over the plan with the refs beforehand. The ref failed at his job and it cost the Lions the win. It would have changed the game to call it right, because the Cowboys, had they paid attention, would have probably adjusted coverage to the guy who was actually eligible. Maybe the play would have worked properly or gotten stopped with proper coverage, we’ll never know. What we instead got was the Cowboys covering an illegal formation because the ref was asleep at the wheel. A failure of officiating, again.

This isn’t even a Ref vs Lions meme thing. This is outright, consistent incompetence across the board. Many Cowboys fans and pundits have pointed out the game shouldn’t have even reached this point because on the previous drive, Dallas was called for a tripping penalty that actually should have gone against Aidan Hutchinson of Detroit, which would have probably allowed Dallas to run out the clock. This miss was a little more forgivable in terms of difficulty calling it in real time, but the fact remains that it was another miss in a pile of mistakes the size of the great Pacific garbage patch.

Every fucking week with this. We had the Chiefs/Packers debacle of a game-ending drive earlier this year. We’ve had two straight Super Bowls anticlimatically ended on penalty calls that were ignored all game. The Giants got screwed out of another game-winning play attempt against the Bills when they called one DPI but not the even more obvious one following it. I can’t remember the last time I saw a QB roughing the passer penalty that felt like it was justified and not pathetic.

This has been degrading for years and the NFL consistently and repeatedly does NOTHING. Without fail they will send out a letter the next day either giving a wimpy apology that changes absolutely nothing or straight up doubling down on the bad call and backing the officials. The League refuses to modernize the position of the ref too. The AAF and XFL have both had additions and ideas for a more modern official that would be welcome and are called for in the NFL (like the much-championed sky judge) and the NFL just…fucking does nothing. The NFL continues to introduce more and more stupid, nitpicky rules that are nebulous in definition so that the refs are basically winging it based on vibes when they have to call the play, which is part of the reason we still don’t know what a catch is or now, what roughing is.

But the refs themselves are also to blame. They proved their worth in the lockout and seem to be coasting ever since. We basically saw them rebel after the infamous missed Rams DPI NFFCG debacle caused PI to become challengable. The NFL is the only league without full-time refs, not even a single crew is more than a part-time worker. Why? It has to be because the ref union fought against it, that the members liked being able to hold down other jobs since NFL games aren’t as frequent as other sports I guess. But while that might be acceptable for some of the refs, maybe even most of them, there’s no reason we still shouldn’t have full-time officials in some capacity to bring more consistency and improvement to the rulebook. We need a full-time crew of officials to go through the system every year, to weed out the worst crews and hold refs accountable since the league currently refuses to do so. They downgraded Brad Allen’s crew from the playoffs after the Lions mess, but I don’t really know how much of a punishment that is for a ref crew and it’s not like Brad Allen’s crew is uniquely bad, they are all bad. They’ve all fucked up this badly.

My usual thought about NFL problems is that the NFL won’t fix any problems until it costs them money. But this…it’s affecting betting. It HAS been affecting betting. This crap has been hurting the league’s bottom line for some time now. People like me have been lambasting the league for years. Owners have bitched about the refs. It damages the product and everyone is mad every week about the newest blunders. More and more fans are getting skeptical of home-cooking conspiracies and rigging. The league has had multiple primetime nightmares this season alone. What the hell has to happen for them to finally fucking do something? Does a ref have to kill a Detroit Lion on the field in cold blood? Nah, I think the NFL would defend even that. Maybe a ref would have to kill Patrick Mahomes.