Saints officials don’t believe referees intentionally influenced the outcome of their NFC Title loss to the Rams, but there are some valid concerns.
On Sunday, Adam Schefter of ESPN broke a major story regarding the famed no-call in the NFC Championship Game. In Schefter’s piece, four officials involved in the contest between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams have ties to Southern California, including referee Bill Vinovich.
So, while the NFL would love for fans to focus all of their attention and energy on the enticing Super Bowl matchup between the Rams and the Patriots, the league instead is dealing with a public relations nightmare.
The timing of such an obvious officiating mistake couldn’t be worse for the NFL. The legalization of sports betting this year has opened up a huge new revenue stream for the league. It also means the potential outcomes of playoff games has never been more prolific to the viewing public. Simply put, a lot of people had a lot of money riding on the outcome of the NFC Championship Game.
The NFL cannot afford for anyone to question the integrity of its product just as sports betting is gaining approval around the country. Even the slightest whiff of foul play could crush the league’s ability to compete with the NBA and MLB in the arena of legalized gambling. That’s not a financial battle the NFL can afford to lose.
For the record, Saints officials do not believe any official intentionally tried to shift the game in the Rams favor. That doesn’t mean everyone is ready to let the issue die entirely. It also doesn’t mean the NFL handled everything correctly.
Some executives around the league are very concerned about the way the situation will look to fans. Vinovich was in charge of the crew that missed an obvious pass interference call against Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman. Vinovich also happens to call Newport Beach home. The three other officials who would have been in the best position to correctly adjudicate the rules on Robey-Coleman’s coverage of Tommylee Lewis also hail from Southern Cala. At the very least, that’s a horrendous look for the NFL.
As Schefter noted, referee assignments are communicated to teams well in advance of their matchup. No one associated with the Saints expressed any concern about Vinovich or anyone in his crew before the game. Their respective hometowns have only become an issue in the aftermath.
At the very least, look for the NFL to take a close look at the rules around assigning officials moving forward. There’s precedence for making sure referees don’t work games involving their hometown teams, but the policy could easily be expanded to include home states as well. That adjustment won’t do anything to help the Saints receive justice, but it could assuage the fears of the public about the overall integrity of the NFL.
The officiating failure in the NFC title game will continue to be a massive public relations problem for the NFL for quite some time.