Officiating Is Still in the PreseasonView From the Press Box
May 13, 1997
TAMPA, Fla. - Having seen four games during the first two weeks of the season, the teams of the Arena Football League were not the only ones that were not ready to take the field. Many of the officials are also out of practice and probably needed another week or two to brush up on their skills. Don't get me wrong. There are many good officials, and the rules of the AFL are much more complicated than in other professional football leagues, but there are a few zebras who are just not doing their job properly.
Roughing the quarterback has become a rule of the past. Very few of these eight-yard penalties have been called. Many more should have been. In a league where the teams either live or die by the performance of their signal caller, I think that the quarterback needs more protection. In years past, those of us at The Storm Shelter have witnessed some interesting QB-related calls by the officials. Storm quarterback Jay Gruden has been called in the grasp by officials of the AFL, but the in the grasp rule only exists in the National Football League.
Perhaps this rule needs to be introduced to ArenaBall in order to prevent serious injuries. In Orlando's loss to the Arizona Rattlers last week, Predators quarterback Pat O'Hara was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury which could have been prevented by a rule change. On numerous occassions in Storm history, the future AFL Hall of Famer Gruden looked like a child's inflatable punching bag. He would get knocked down, many times late, and then miraculously get up for another play. If late hits are allowed to continue, defensive linemen will not hold anything back, and this may lead to serious injuries to quarterbacks.
Besides the danger to quarterbacks, there are less dangerous mistakes being made by officials. Fortunately, these mistakes are, in general, being made both ways. Although not always incorrect, there have been many uncalled instances of defensive pass interference, and holding and offsides on the offense. The offensive offsides usually occurs when the motion receiver crosses the line of scrimmage prior to the snap of the ball. This happened frequently in the Storm's win over the Florida Bobcats, but it was only called once by the line judge when Bobcats OS Cleveland Pratt crossed the line too soon. The officials did not throw a flag on the three following plays when Pratt did the same thing.
On a positive note, I applaud the new rule which calls for a delay of game penalty if a spiked football goes into the stands. The league can't afford an unlimited number of footballs, and many balls go into the stands on kicks and pass plays for fans to keep. This rule will probably save the league about $600 a week, which translates to $7,200 for the season. The change shouldn't hurt anyone, because the players are still allowed to celebrate after scores.
Since the most consistent thing about the AFL officials is their inconsistency, maybe they should spend more time reviewing game films like referees in other professional leagues do. Then, they could become more familiar with what should and shouldn't be called. Not only would this make for more correct calls, but the officials would make their decisions more quickly. They just need more practice.
That's my view from the press box.
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