XFL’s response to Week 5 officiating error sets example of accountability for NFL

By Pershelle Rohrer

March 26, 2020

Pershelle Rohrer is a first-year BGSU student from Logan, Utah. She is a Sport Management major with a minor in Journalism. Her primary sports interests are football, basketball, and baseball, both at the professional and collegiate levels.

The XFL had a major officiating controversy at the end of a game between the Houston Roughnecks and Seattle Dragons on March 7. The way the league handled it could set an example for the NFL, a league that has struggled to improve its officiating for years.

The Roughnecks led the Dragons, 32-23, with the clock running down at the end of the fourth quarter. Instead of throwing the ball out-of-bounds on fourth down to kill the remainder of the clock, Houston quarterback PJ Walker took a knee with two seconds remaining. The play should have resulted in a turnover on downs, granting Seattle one last shot at the end zone from Houston’s 21-yard line (West, 2020).

Seattle would have had a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and three-point conversion. Instead, the clock ran out, the referees left the field, and the game was declared over. ABC announcers Steve Levy and Greg McElroy immediately called out the officiating crew. McElroy said, “It can’t happen. It absolutely can’t happen. It is inexcusable,” (Werner, 2020, para. 5). When they asked officiating supervisor Wes Booker why the game was called with time on the clock, he admitted his mistake but claimed that he could not bring the teams and officials back for the final play. In USA Today writer Barry Werner’s words (2020, para. 4), “The replay official told ABC the game was over and there was nothing they could do about it, somehow.”

Later that evening, the XFL reassigned Booker and released a statement apologizing for the mistake. Dan Lyons wrote, “Good on the XFL for getting a statement and apology out very quickly,” (2020, para. 7). 

The XFL’s quick response to the situation was impressive for the league, especially in a time where fans, players, and coaches are frustrated with the officiating in the larger NFL. Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians called out the NFL in 2019, stating that, “My biggest thing is, referees aren’t held accountable,” (Seifert, 2019, para. 25). The NFL and XFL officiating crews have different levels of exposure, and the transparency of the XFL is what allowed Booker to be held accountable for his mistake. In the XFL, all officials are mic’d up throughout the game, and the access to the officiating supervisor in the booth made it possible to immediately ask for his reasoning behind calling the game early.

All plays are booth reviewable in the XFL, with a replay official in the stadium. In the NFL, plays are only booth reviewable for the last two minutes of each half, and the replay official is at a central command center in New York (Schwartz, 2020). Since officials are mic’d up in the XFL, fans can listen to the booth official’s conversation with the on-field referees and understand the reasoning for either overturning or upholding a call. 

Geoff Schwartz claims, “The NFL is already in need of an officiating overhaul and letting people in on the review process would go a long way to making nice with everyone involved” (2020, para. 14). Taking a page out of the XFL’s playbook could be the solution the NFL needs to help restore integrity to its officiating and improve the in-game experience for players and fans alike.

References

Lyons, D. (2020, March 7). XFL reassigns official after bad blunder that cost team chance to tie game. The Spun. https://thespun.com/xfl/xfl-roughnecks-dragons-officials-pj-walker-kneel-two-seconds-mistake

Schwartz, G. (2020, Feb. 10). 6 XFL features the NFL could adopt, ranked from most to least likely. SB Nation. https://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2020/2/10/21130851/xfl-rules-nfl-adopt-kickoff-gambling-review-live-mics-player-coach

Seifert, K. (2019, November 7). The NFL’s officiating crisis: Why it’s time to sound the alarm. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/28022721/the-nfl-officiating-crisis-why-sound-alarm

Werner, B. (2020, March 8). XFL admits error, reassigns officiating supervisor involved in controversial Seattle-Houston finish. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/xfl/2020/03/08/xfl-reassigns-officiating-supervisor-over-roughnecks-dragons-ending/41371457/

West, J. (2020, March 7). XFL has first major officiating controversy as referees botch game’s final play. Sports Illustrated. https://www.si.com/xfl/2020/03/07/officiating-controversy-clock-run-outseattle-dragons-houston-roughnecks

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