A hot topic continuing to be debated throughout 2015 surrounds the officiating of NFL games. Fans always believe "their team" gets the short end of the stick on calls, but this year has particularly displayed egregious calls. Some have come late and have unfortunately had a big bearing on the outcome of a couple of high-profile contests. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski believes he's being targeted and closer to home, the Cardinals got some help in beating the Bengals by what Marvin Lewis is calling a phantom penalty on Domata Peko.
League commissioner Roger Goodell recently addressed the media at the league's December owners' meetings to relay the discussions about the state of officiating in the NFL this year. Predictably, he staunchly stood by the groups the league has hired, at one point calling their performances "an extraordinary job".
"I mentioned to them – when we talk about integrity of the game, that's one thing that truly affects the integrity of the game. We strive for perfection, we strive for consistency," Goodell said. "We're not going to always get that, but we're always going to continue to try to get that."
Goodell did say he'd try and do "everything reasonable" to improve the officiating going forward and that the competition committee would look at how officiating can be improved.
"No stone will be left unturned with respect to how we continue to improve officiating," Goodell said. "I've also asked the (competition) committee to continue to look at ways in which we can use technology effectively in our game. Technology is changing, it's giving us an opportunity to see things we never saw before and we need to make sure that our officials have access to that."
Goodell further talked about the importance of technology and it's role in officiating, pointing out that "we see things that we could never see before."
While he mostly talked in generalities, he largely avoided the hot topic of a true definition of a catch in the NFL. Since 2010's odd ruling of Calvin Johnson's no-touchdown that would have been a game winner against the Bears, further muddying of the waters has occurred. In 2012, Golden Tate was given a touchdown ruling to beat the Packers on Monday Night Football, to call the then-replacement referees into question. Dez Bryant had another call go against him in a playoff game against the Packers last postseason, having fans up in arms on the ruling.
The Bengals were also a victim of the unclear rule this season when Tyler Eifert had what seemed to be a touchdown catch ruled a drop. Oddly enough, Eifert's predecessor, Jermaine Gresham had an eerily similar call go against him in 2010 when the team faced Baltimore as well. Gresham's no-catch resembled Megatron's earlier that season. Eifert's play was on a fourth-and-goal that would have put Cincinnati up 21 points going into halftime.
Goodell did say the "What is a Catch" rule will be evaluated this offseason. "A couple of weeks ago I asked several football personnel, including former GMs, current GMs, current individuals, former players, former officials to come together and try to see if we can study this and come up with some proposal for the Competition Committee to consider," Goodell said about the issue regarding what an actual NFL catch can be defined as. "There are a lot of factors to consider. How it's officiated, how it's played, how it's coached, how the fans react. We want clarity to that. We want to find a better solution if it's out there and so that committee will come back, they will report to the Competition Committee and the Competition Committee will then of course report to the membership if there's a solution or a recommendation."
Other topics discussed at the December meeting were the proposals and potential relocation of an NFL franchise to Los Angeles, the league's personal conduct policy and general vitality of the league itself. Based on the league's working with Rams owner Stan Kroenke and others, here are some L.A. updates Goodell shared:
We've made this clear for several years now – we believe the stadiums in Los Angeles as well as other markets that are large markets should be capable of hosting two teams. That's a very important imperative for us. Stan has always had an alternative that there would be a tenant. Late last week – I think it was Friday – we got a letter saying that he was willing to propose an equity ownership, 50-50 ownership, in the stadium and that they would be treated as equal partners in the stadium. I think that was received well by the membership. That's something they'll certainly consider.
The NFL will need 24 owners to agree with the decision in Los Angeles to make the move happen.
"We've had circumstances where it takes a little longer to get a vote and you need to stay and you need to drive to that conclusion. I think the membership will do that and they'll do that at the appropriate time," Goodell said of the possibility that owners vote down the L.A. decision. "We have not even gotten to the application process. The committee has done an enormous amount of work. They've been very thoughtful. The ownership is interested in their recommendation, and when they make a recommendation. I think that will be influential on them."
The application process for moving a team to L.A. can not take place until early January, so it looks like we'll be waiting a little longer to get more clarification and answers on two of the burning questions on NFL fans' minds.