Look, let me start by saying it is just not a thing that the NFL is rigged. This is not about a grand conspiracy; this is about the fact that fans are increasingly irritated with officiating. Part of the issue is the rise of replay and other technologies in sports that make it so yeah, after the fact it is almost always possible to know what a call should have been.
Combine this with the lack of consistency in application of the rules, or the trend in professional ranks of protecting big stars (how do you even record a legal sack anymore?) and fans are starting to lose it.
In college basketball this year, I have yet to see a single Big 12 game that hasn’t ended without someone feeling like they got screwed. And here is the worst part, the number of bad late calls, refball games, and general wildly incorrect calls makes it hard to argue against that feeling.
Even if the problem isn’t bias, which I tend to believe, but more general incompetency, are we reaching a real crisis point?
Fans are harder than ever on refs at all levels, even down to teeball, and that keeps people from coming into the profession. However, the lack of accountability and job security that results from a lack of available officials worsens the product further causing fans to be even less forgiving.
The solution may seem pretty obvious, take more calls out of the hands of officials and use technology to solve them. Soccer has VAR which still upsets people but usually the irritation is just look at that one millimeter of sleeve over the line and not usually totally assbackwards calls from a replay booth of people.
But here is the issue, games are incredibly long in football and the end of game in basketball is a nightmare. Do we really want more replays and more stoppages and commercials as a result? And we have added replay to football more than ever and the booth still regularly messes it up.
There are things we can immediately do, like using the chips that in fact exist in footballs now to handle down and distance/goalline decisions. In basketball, we can tweak the rules to discourage fouling late. Hell, maybe even the Elam Ending becomes the norm.
From there, we need to have a real conversation about officiating and how we treat them. And also, how unaccountable officials are for decisions that legitimately have gotten people fired.
Something has to give for the product to continue to be enjoyed at the level it is. Officials need to be better, and frankly fans need to relax more about attacking them.
Is the sport going to die or something drastic? Of course not, but is it possible that that at some point viewership dips because the quality of officials has slid so far? I think it could happen, and that is the scenario the power brokers have to fix.