The officiating level of football games this season seems to be at an all-time low, or, depending upon your perspective, an all-time high. From the college and high school games that I have seen in person to the many that I have watched on television, the zebras seem to be stealing the show in most of them.
I don't know what's going on, but regardless of the team uniform colors, yellow has become the theme for Football '05. It would take a massive amount of research to prove or disprove it, but to this fan this season has definitely been the year of the penalty flag. If the striped shirts are not working on some kind of record, you can't prove it by the games I've seen.
It would be easy to say that blame for these seemingly excessive penalties belong to the officials themselves. I've noticed at the high school level especially, the quality of officiating has gone steadily south over the last few years. Many of the officials appear confused and are often out of position. Like any other endeavor, it takes experience to be really good at something, and many of the officials I've observed often act as if they've never even seen a football, much less a game.
I think a big culprit for many penalties are the rules themselves. In the name of safety, but more likely in the name of equity between offense and defense, there may be too many rules of football. For years rules were bent and changed in the direction of the offense, but maybe with the speed of the game having increased, the rules committees are fretting over safety.
I challenge anyone that regularly watches football, to watch an entire game at any level without seeing at least two or more penalties per game on kick or punt returns. The infamous "block-in-the-back" call is usually the culprit. Back in the day, it was called clipping, but I guess the name change sounds more legalistic.
The pro game does not allow defensive backs to even sniff a receiver, even if the ball is not in the air. There is an official assigned to watch every receiver so the cover guys have to do their work with their feet and never their hands. I'm not saying that's bad, but it's tough to sprint downfield full speed while breathing down each other's throats without ever touching.
Southeastern Conference officials have to be the most flag-happy bunch ever. I don't mean just against Georgia either. I've seen or heard of several teams having double-digit penalty games on more than one occasion this season. The long conferences a group of officials have after one throws a flag leads me to believe they have been trained to overconfirm, if you will, their calls. To me, if you throw your flag, you should be dead sure of what you saw. Save the long discussions for after the game. Even the trend in education is to not discipline a child unless we as a teacher observed the infraction ourselves. Eyewitnesses are no good.
There is no doubt either that the many complicated formations and plays that coaches now use contribute to the problem. Few teams stick to just a base set of running and passing plays to use in every game anymore. They are constantly adding to and taking from their schemes to gain an advantage over their various opponent's from week to week. This always leads to miscommunication and poor execution that results in more penalties.
The increased size, strength, speed and aggressiveness of today's players obviously make calling a game tougher. The plethora of rules and situations that can occur also compound the difficulty of the job.
It has always been said that a game that is truly well officiated will see the men in stripes leave the field without drawing attention to themselves. That is an unheard of occurrence in this era of football. Calls have to be made, and yes, some will be missed, but this is getting ridiculous.
Even fans of teams that seldom lose are in agreement that games last too long due to the high number of flags being thrown in both directions. I don't know what the answer is, but I hope something changes soon. Poor or overzealous officiating should not become the bane of a great game.