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Zebras and (scape)Goats

Picture this: NFL Referee Carl Cheffers and his seven-person crew (the one that called Super Bowl LI) are down on their luck, and forced to referee flag football games during the NFL off-season. Concerning their circumstances that led to such a downfall, you can insert whichever backstory you choose…include as many methamphetamine binges, botched sex-change operations, and positive paternity tests as you would like. The fact is that these poor saps now must referee a flag football game in Lumberton, Texas.

The first thing we tell Carl is that he’s going to have to fire most of his crew…we can only pay for two referees per game after all. So, Carl and his most sober compadre embark on their twenty-dollar-each venture. They immediately detect tension because both flag football teams can’t seem to stop berating each other. Carl looks down and sees that the lines on the field are worn away, there are no hash marks (for reference on ball placement), and without an umpire or back judge, it is almost impossible to see anything happening in the middle of the field (flag football players are not transparent). The speed of the game is strange because 5.7-forty-times are intermingled with 44-inch-verticals. These vastly different “athletes” sharing the same field make interpretation of intention almost impossible – How could one ever know if someone collided intentionally, or because he just couldn’t get out of the way? Carl is routinely screamed at when he makes close calls. He notices that some of the players do not seem to know the rules, and several are reciting defunct rules in incoherent, profanity-laden shouts between (and sometimes during) plays. There is no instant-replay, so Carl is keenly aware that every call will stand (whether it was correct or not). Finally, Carl and his co-ref want to do a good job because they see how much this game means to its players. While the pay, field quality, and professionalism does not match that of the NFL, the passion sometimes exceeds it. How would these referees fare?

In 2013, there were 185 reversals due to instant replay in the NFL*. That was 43% of the plays that were subjected to the instant replay system (Compare that to the 0% reversal-rate of SETX FFL, and I’d say we’re doing rather well). As football viewers, we have become spoiled, and expectant of perfection. We have become accustomed to receiving absolute correction (with the aid of seven different referees, six Best Buys’ worth of HD cameras, and the GDP of The Bahamas**). It is no wonder that when we play flag football, we expect the same. The simple fact is, however, that we do not have those resources. Even if we placed NFL referees in charge of our games, we would still be limited by our lack of personnel and technology.

In ancient times, high priests of villages would periodically select a goat for sacrifice. They would place their hands upon the creature, and speak the sins of their people into the goat – thus absolving the humans in the eyes of their god. After the goat was sacrificed, the people of the village would once again be made innocent of any wrongdoing. This is where the term ‘scapegoat’ comes from.

Fast-forward to now: We all make miss flags, drop passes, commit penalties, and (for some reason or another) try to go over the middle against the Spartans. These are called mistakes. Each game is decided, not by a single acute call by an official on a close play, but by the combination of those aforementioned miscues and well-designed/well-executed plays (oh, and luck). Let us not repeat the ritualistic dogma of the past and turn our zebras into scapegoats. Also, Brandon Granger was totally in on that touchdown during Week 6 – great call, ref!

*This information comes from the official NFL Operations website:

**This is actually true. The annual NFL revenue and Gross Domestic Product of The Bahamas is roughly 9 billion dollars. Roger Goodell has said that by the year 2027, he hopes that the NFL will make 25 billion dollars annually. This would place them somewhere between Estonia and Uganda.

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