A rational discussion about NFL referees

Editor's note: This column originally appeared in Read & React, Yahoo Sports daily newsletter. You can subscribe here.

Well, the Super Bowl is set, but all anyone seems to be talking about is the officiating from championship weekend. So let’s talk about the officiating … in a rational way.

‌We’ll start with this sentiment: “It is obvious the NFL wanted the Kansas City Chiefs to beat the Cincinnati Bengals by the late 4th quarter officiating.”

‌Why? Why would the NFL prefer the Chiefs over the Bengals? If you think it’s because of better ratings, well, the Super Bowl draws an audience no matter who’s in it. Kansas City’s last appearance drew 100 million viewers. Last year’s Super Bowl, which included the Bengals, drew 99 million. The NFL is going to rig a game and risk a massive scandal that would bring down an entire multi-billion empire over a 1% audience increase?

I don’t think so.

"There was obvious favoritism shown the KC team by the officials, clearly taking orchestration orders from the league office who, in turn, take them from Vegas."

‌You think sports books, which are finally opening in states across the country, are going to risk their legalized future because they might take a bath on Cincinnati winning? That would be playing a hellaciously stupid short game.

“It is past time for the nation's richest sport to provide professional officiating.”

‌I agree. The NFL can afford it. But, how is making officials full-time going to make said officials better? Maybe it attracts a higher-caliber talent pool, but the game is still going to be the game and the game of football is a difficult one to officiate.

‌This, for me, is why I’ll defend the refs.

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor argues a call with referee Ronald Torbert (62) during during the second half of the AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023 in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

‌Every play in football is a 22-car pileup, and if you’ve ever been involved in even a two-car accident, try getting all the eye witnesses to agree on what happened.

‌“He ran a red light!”

‌“No he didn’t, it was yellow!”

‌Throw in 20 cameras, all in high definition, with the capability of slowing replays down frame by frame, and it becomes incredibly easy to question a referee missing a call they watched in real-time while trying to keep an eye on a hundred other things.

‌It’s not that the officials are consistently bad, it’s that perfection is impossible. Hell, it’s hard to even be consistently good, which, for the most part, refs are. After all, how many times are referees credited with getting a call right?

‌The most talked-about call of the KC-Cincy game was the do-over the Chiefs got on that third-down play. The do-over was actually the correct call. The line judge noticed a mistake by the referee, who inadvertently announced the clock would wind on his signal. It shouldn’t have, the line judge noticed it and ran in to correct it.

‌It wasn’t a good look for the referee, but ultimately they got the call right.

‌Did the officials later miss a hold on the last-second Patrick Mahomes scramble that wound up putting the Chiefs in field goal range? Looked like it on the replay, but calls are going to get missed.

‌Sure, this is a simplistic way of looking at it, but I don't think it's any more complicated than that. Mistakes are going to happen when doing something that’s very, very difficult to do. You just hope they don’t happen in a tie game with eight seconds to go in the AFC championship.