Sports: Officiating, Part II

In the last blog, I wrote about the way officials are paid, trained and reviewed. This whole system needs to be improved if officiating is ever going to get better. Instant replay, which was supposed to correct bad calls has been nothing short of a disaster and needs to be revamped and re-defined. All the leagues need to do something, and then each league needs to do something more specific. All professional leagues need to do more performance reviews. The purpose of performance reviews is to improve the employee’s performance. Every corporation does this. A performance review is meant to give constructive criticism and praise to each employee, which should help each employee to do a better job. With all the video technology today, this should be a snap for professional sports to do. Apparently, the NBA is starting such a program and the other sport leagues should quickly follow. This should lead to weeding out the bad officials. If an official is not making any progress, then he should be demoted to a lower league if possible or dismissed from his job. No one should have the job security of professional officials. All officials should continue some kind of training for their craft a least a couple times of month. They need to be schooled on some of the tougher and more judgmental calls in their respective leagues. There is plenty of time to do this during the season in all the sports. Now let’s look at each individual sport.

Hockey needs to get rid of the philosophy of the so called make up call. The idea that penalties need to be pretty much equal during a game is just ridiculous. That mentality makes the game seem so weird. I know it has been going on forever but if the game ever wants to be taken seriously, it needs to end that, along with fighting. Pro football needs to get full time officials. If this means paying them even more, so be it. During the week the officials can review film, see where they made mistakes, and do practice scrimmages or attend other team’s practices to see plays and call penalties. There are more officials on the field in football, because it is difficult to see what is going on when there are 22 players running around trying to do mayhem on each other. They just need to be involved in the game full time. Baseball needs to set up a better review process, much like the NBA is starting to do. I think one of the excuses for Major League Umpires, about reviewing them, is that they have the longer schedule and season. They do get a day off, just like players. The review process can take place during the afternoon of a night game. These processes do not take lot of time if they are done frequently, around 2 times per month. I was going to mention the same thing concerning the NBA but that seems to be taking place as I am typing.

Then there is instant replay. An entire blog could be devoted to instant replay the way this has been botched by professional sports. It seemed like such a simple concept. Make sure we got the calls right. This should not have been a big deal. The first problem is the basic concept of replay got lost in the shuffle. It was meant to reverse obvious botched calls. It was not meant to change things that could not be seen with the naked eye. It was not meant to call a runner out at second because for .1 of a sec. he was 1 inch off the bag. It was not meant to re-spot a ball 3 inches one way or the other. It was not meant to change a fumble call when a runner lost the ball while is knee was 1 inch from the ground. You get the picture. There are a lot of ego trips going on here. We need to get back to the simple reason replay was introduced to the game. There would be two things that can help this. One, end the process that coaches and managers can challenge a call. First of all, in football the coaches are wrong about 60% of the time and on the baseball side about 50% of the time. That means the game is stopped unnecessarily over 50% of the time. All replay calls should be initiated by the replay official. If a call is wrong, it is wrong. Here is a big tip for all replay officials about what makes a call wrong. If you have to look at the replay more than twice, then the call is not wrong. The NFL is already doing this for a lot of plays. All turnovers, touchdowns, and plays with less than 2 minutes to go in the half or game can only be reviewed and initiated by the replay official. Baseball is particularly bad when it comes to managers initiating plays to review. It takes forever and slows down an already slow game. Secondly you need to have better communication between the replay official and the on field official. One solution for football, would be to have the replay official in a booth, right on the field. If he thought a play should be reviewed, then a light could go on that would be seen on top of the roof. Between electronic communication and the light, the ref should know right away if the play needs a review. The other thing in football is why does the on-field official have to look at the replay. Just another thing that slows down the game. Let the replay official make the call, tell the ref and let the game continue. One final thing about replay. The practice of the putting the replay up on the video screen at the stadium or arena should stop. Those screens are not that clear. All it does is to incite the fans and add an unneeded stressor on the replay official’s call. Replay should be part of the game, but it needs to get back to basics and be run much more smoothly, so the monster it has become can be vanquished.

Now see, that wasn’t hard was it. If these changes are made to way officials are handled and the way instant replay is done, then there will be less bad calls and the game will move along at the pace that it should. What sports needs to do, is to make sure that the official’s incompetence does not determine who wins a big game and a championship. It would be nice to see that just luck and team incompetence are the true keys to winning a championship. I do not expect to see this in my lifetime.

Sports: Officiating, Part I

The football season ended the way a lot of seasons end with people talking about the officiating. A couple of calls and non-calls at the end of the game provided a sure-fire way for the Rams to win the game. Officiating across all the professional sports just seems to be pretty bad and no one really seems to do much about it. Nobody wants to talk about how much the officials determine the outcome of a game. Often times they are the main reason that a team wins the game. As in a previous blog, I stated that no pregame analysis ever includes, how the officials are going to do. What really determines who wins the game is the official’s competency, luck, and team ineptitude. Everyone on the outside of sports looking in, mainly the fans and media, knows that officiating is at it’s all time worst. Before we can look at ways to improve officiating, we need to look at the current state of officiating in each league.

What are the officials getting paid? They seem to be getting paid pretty well. In fact, officiating is not a bad gig to do, if you can be one of the lucky few who make it to the top. Most of this has just happened over the last twenty years but everybody is doing pretty well. The average salary of refs and officials in the various sports is around $200,000 a year. The highest paid are in the NBA, and the lowest in the NHL, but veteran officials are making well into 6 figures. Only the NFL refs do not receive a benefit package, since they are considered part time employees. We all know that the NFL refs hold down a full-time job during the week. This seems perfectly all right to the NFL, and even have shills in the press, to endorse that this is fine to have officials decide outcomes of games, with lots of other pressing issues on their minds during the week. The salaries are not all the same. The more experience and responsibility you have on the job, you will be paid more, sometimes considerably more, around twice the average league salary. The so-called better refs that do playoff games, get quite a bonus. The Super Bowl refs got a $30,000 to 50,000 bonus, and all the other leagues give $10,000 to $20,000 bonuses to work each playoff and championship series. They get travel expenses and obviously there is lots of travel. All and all, you can say that the referees and officials in pro sports are compensated quite nicely, for all the abuse that they sometimes have to take.

Then there are three factors that are all related and entwined with each other. Are professional officials, trained, do they regular go through performance reviews, and is anybody fired or demoted for incompetence or poor performance. There is very little or no training for officials in each league. What there is, is usually in the beginning of the season, and is more related to being in shape, than trying to hone judgement and refereeing skills. Obviously, none of the professional leagues thinks that practice makes perfect should apply to officials. Performance reviews are something else that is not high on the list of priorities in the various leagues. The NBA has none, and the other leagues only have periodic reviews, with baseball having most, which includes umpires going over their balls and strikes call. That leads to the not so surprising finding that hardly anyone ever gets fired or demoted for making bad calls that determine the outcomes of games. Not only do officials get paid well, but they also have job security second to none. Most of the firings, demotions and suspensions have had to with situations off the field, unrelated to job performance. There was one instance of an NFL official getting fired for missing an offside call, but that has been it. For whatever reason, the NFL just seemed to want to make an example of him. Nothing happened to ref who blew the pass interference call that most likely cost New Orleans a trip to the Super Bowl. As a general rule, leagues think that not allowing a ref or official to do post season games in the future is punishment enough.

That is the work environment of professional officiating. There are some basics that need to be changed, that could help improve officiating, which will be in part II of this blog. There is no question that officiating and umpiring games is a thankless task, where one must suffer a lot of abuse, while performing one’s duties. Instant replay was supposed to right the bad calls and it seemed like such a simple concept. Again, professional sports have screwed that up so bad, that it has become more of a pain in the ass, than what it has been worth. I am an advocate of replay and there is an easy and simple way to use replay, that does not cause the game to come to a grinding halt. Even though I think the solutions to improve officiating are quite simple, there won’t be any improvement until each league admits that it is terrible and then cares enough to do something about. That day has not arrived yet.

Sports: Things We Will Never See Again

I have been watching and observing sports for over 60 years. Over those years many things have change in each of the major team sports. Most of these changes have been for the better. Better training, better equipment, and better playing fields have helped all the sports be more entertaining. There are some things in each sport, that will never be seen again, that made each sport unique and were outstanding athletic accomplishments. I feel sad that the younger generation of sport fans will never see these things, that were almost common, from the late 50’s, to the late 70’s. It was a different way the sport was played, that made the sport a little more fun and inspiring. Today each sport is pretty much thriving, so I don’t think any of these things will ever be seen again, even though they would help their respective sport to be better. Some will never be seen again, because the players just cannot perform the tasks anymore, and probably never will. Let’s take a look at each sport.

Baseball will never see these pitching performances ever again. Going back to 1960, on opening Don Drysdale pitched an opening day 11 inning complete game beating the Chicago Cubs 3 to 2. In the greatest pitching duel of all time Warren Spahn, 42 years old at the time, battled Juan Marichal for 16 innings, 0-0 until fittingly Willie Mays hit a home run in the bottom of the 16th, to end one of the greatest games in Major League history. Each pitcher threw well over 200 pitches. Mickey Lolich of the Detroit Tigers, in 1971 threw 376 innings and completed 29 games. Today pitchers don’t complete 29 games in their career. The last time any pitcher threw 300 innings was Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980. This year in the American League nobody threw 200 innings. We will never see a base stealing, superior defensive and great pitching team win a World Series ever again. The Los Angeles Dodgers played in 4 World Series, won 3, from 1959 to 1966 with this type of team. This type of team will never exist in baseball again, even though that formula could still win.

Football will never see the Wishbone offense, one of the most exciting and explosive offenses in the history of college football. It had its peak in the late 60’s up until the early 80’s. The company line has been that defenses devised ways of stopping the Wishbone. In reality the NFL put the clamps on the Wishbone. The Wishbone required a quarterback who was athletic, quick and deceptive with the ball for the attack to be formidable. He had to have some throwing ability but did not have to be tall. He needed to be able to read the line of scrimmage for the Wishbone to work. This was not the prototype QB the NFL was looking for. Being the minor leagues of pro football, colleges had to start producing what the NFL wanted. Then when the pro spread offense became popular in the NFL in the 80’s, the college game just followed suit to keep the NFL happy. We will never see an NFL quarterback call all his own plays. It wasn’t by accident that in the 50’s, 60’s, and most of the 70’s the quarterback was called the field general. Every quarterback in the NFL, with exception of the Cleveland Browns, called his own plays. Rarely was a play sent in from the bench. On rare occasions, when a play would be sent in, many times it would be ignored. We will never see the two-back offense in the NFL,again. There were some historic tandems in the 60’s and 70’s. Cleveland had Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell. The list of great running tandems can just roll off the tongue: Taylor and Hornung, Kiick and Csonka, Harris and Blier. Everybody knows who they played for. This all ended in the 80’s thanks to Bill Walsh. You could call it, the end of deception in pro football. It is the main reason you see so many 3rd, 4th and 1 yd. to go failures.

In basketball you will never really see fast break offense again. This was the most exciting basketball ever. The 60’s 70’s and 80’s was the fast break era in basketball, led by the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Today the fast break is only run when the opportunity presents itself. The 3-point shot may have something to do with this, but most of all, I think it is just an easier way to play the game, having some sort of half court set offense. Then there is hockey, God love them. You will never see players in hockey play without helmets or goalies without facemasks. In the sixties and seventies your manhood was challenged, if you thought about wearing some kind of face and head protection. Many players were either embarrassed or afraid to ask for a helmet or mask. It was not until 1979, that helmets were mandated in hockey and that was only for the new players coming in. If you did not wear a helmet up to that point, you could continue to play and get your head bashed in by another player or the puck. Hockey’s version of keeping players safe.

I feel quite fortunate that I did get to see all the things that I mentioned, that will never be seen again. The list is not complete, but it will do for now. I think that for the most part these sports have suffered, with the exception of hockey, for these things that will never be seen or done again. Yes, the athletes today, are bigger, faster, and quicker than their counterparts of times gone by. However, players in the past have done things that none of them will ever do. The athletes of today will never experience some of the tactics and strategies that had made their particular sport great.

Meditation: Euthanasia

Euthanasia is defined as the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma. The practice is illegal in most countries. When I read this, I did not realize that there may be some countries that have legal euthanasia. While there are a lot of countries that have laws that allow assisted suicide, there are only 3 that have legalized euthanasia. They are Luxembourg, Norway, and Belgium, with Norway being the first to do so, in 2002. Euthanasia at first glance seems like a straightforward process. If someone is having extreme pain and suffering, and it is due to a terminal illness, then the kindest most humane thing to do would be to terminate their life. What about a person that has extreme senility due to Alzheimer disease or aging, how much pain and suffering is going on there? It doesn’t take much of one’s imagination, to see how this is a very controversial subject. Being a veterinarian, I had firsthand experience in being the administrator of drugs to euthanize dogs and cats. Over a 44-year veterinary career, I euthanized well over 5000 dogs and cats, for various reasons. Of course, it was the owners of these animals that made the final decision, sometimes with or without my guidance. Even though euthanasia in theory sounds like a kind and gentle thing to do, I would not support making human euthanasia legal. Let’s look more closely at my experience in veterinary medicine.

This is just one veterinarian’s opinion, when it came to the decision-making process of putting their beloved pet to sleep, I grouped people into three areas. I felt 50% of people euthanized their pet too soon, 25% waited too long, and 25% did it at the right time. This did not include people that put their pet to sleep for non-medical reasons. Some of these reasons I felt were legitimate, like financial restraints, the owner not being able to take care of the dog, and the owner’s death, where the owner wanted the pet euthanized, rather than go to another home or shelter. Sometimes, and fortunately, this did not happen often, but the reason would be rather ridiculous. I would have somebody want to put their pet to sleep because it had fleas, or they were moving, or the kids, who wanted the dog in the first place, had moved out, and would not take the dog. Naturally, I would refuse these requests, even knowing that another veterinarian might do it, or they would just take the pet to a shelter. I did not include people that because of the religious beliefs, would not euthanize a pet under any circumstances. Most people would come to the decision to euthanize their pet too soon. They came to this decision for various reasons. They overestimated how much the pet is suffering. If the dog or cat is eating and drinking and seemingly moving around ok, and still enjoys interactions with the owner, then the pet must not be doing too badly. I think that some people just got tired of taking care of the pet’s problem, or it may have become too costly. These people agonized over their decision but decided to euthanize, when the pet probably had at least a few good months left. I know some people waited too long for the simple fact they could not bring themselves to do it, until it became unbearable to see the condition that the pet was in. Here is the main reason I think that euthanasia can be sometimes, just too convenient. Over the years of practice, I saw many clients with their pets, that other veterinarians had recommended euthanasia. In well over 80% of those cases through a more thorough examination and tests, and relatively inexpensive treatments, those animals’ lives were prolonged at least 1 year or more. The quality of life for those pets were from good to excellent. In my view a year is very significant when you are talking about a dog or cat. There was no question in my mind that euthanasia was taking the easy way out for those veterinarians.

Now I know euthanasia for humans is different than what it is in veterinary medicine. The biggest is that a person is making the decision for his or herself. That does not mean however, that other people cannot be an influence on that decision. Relatives and close family members could put undue pressure on someone that they feel is having extreme pain and suffering. The opposite could be true where family members could influence a person to continue the pain and suffering, just because they do not want to lose them forever. There is no question that deciding to end one’s life can be extremely difficult but should be made with no outside influence whatsoever, other than the person’s physician. Each and every case is so unique, that it is impossible to make some general recommendation on when it is time euthanize an individual. I have watched many people agonize over that decision, when it comes to their pets, and that decision may have lifelong consequences. Those consequences may be even more so, when a loved one is involved. It does seem like a great way to alleviate much pain and suffering, and maybe someday, as a society we might progress where that decision will be allowed to be made solely by the individual involved. I do not think we have reached that point yet. We should allow the natural progression of disease take place, until that day comes.

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