BAD CALLS- Which Pro League Has the Worst Officiating?

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Bad calls are a part of all competitive sports. The very idea of having referees, umpires, and line judges is to maintain a fair balance so that both teams have an opportunity to compete and win the game, yet constantly fans are witnesses to horrible and potentially game-changing calls that continuously redefine sports frustration. Who among us has never felt like this young sports-lover to my left?

This brings us to today's discussion.

Most recently, for Chicago fans, a goal that was taken back from the
Hawks Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres nearly cost the Hawks
the game. After Tomas Kopecky
was rammed into Patrick Lalime, the Sabres goalie, by their own
defenseman, Kopecky came around the net to redirect a shot directly
in for a goal. The goal was then waved off as the ref called Kopecky for
running into Lalime.

First off, one of the referees called it a good
goal as soon as it happened. Secondly, if Kopecky should have been
called for a penalty, the play should have been dead as soon as the
Hawks regained possession of the puck, so that an otherwise good goal
would not have to be waived off once it has already gone through to the
back of the net. The goal would have tied the game at two, but the Hawks eventually did so on a stunning breakaway goal by Marian Hossa, and the team prevailed, winning 4-3.

For a good chunk of the game, however, it looked like that call may have taken a win away from our beloved Hawks. This got me thinking: which professional sport is hurt the most by the officials calling the games? Truth be told, every sport has had games ruined by bad calls, but which one is the worst, and how do we define this? Do frequently small bad calls pile up to earn this distinction, or must it be only major game-changing calls?

I am interested to see what others think, but here is a breakdown of my thoughts on this subject.

The way I see it, the NFL still has the most obvious blunders. When a bad call is made in the NFL, it almost always is apparent and indisputable. Furthermore, many of these bad calls take place upon review of a play; fans everywhere get to see the play twenty-something times in ultra-slow motion, clearly making visible any misinterpretation on the ref's part.

Everything is always open to interpretation, and fans generally seem to be wearing their teams' goggles when it comes to such calls, but the spotlight is on these calls in the NFL more than in any other league, and often these calls come at crucial, momentum-changing points of the game. However, I do not think this makes the NFL the worst.

The example provided by Saturday's Blackhawks game makes a solid case for the NHL. Much like is possible in the NFL, one ref saw one thing while another saw it differently, and seniority eventually takes its threshold. This terrible call nearly cost the Hawks the victory they eventually earned, but such terrible calls seem to be relatively infrequent in the NHL. While there may be plenty of bad calls, rarely do we see such obvious ones get butchered as they did Saturday night. That being considered, I'd say the NFL has worse officiating than the NHL, but neither is the worst overall.

At least hockey and football both utilize the glaringly obvious crutch of replay review. While baseball would have you believe it has instituted this into its league, the primary function of review in the MLB is on border-line home-runs. Although this does prove to come in handy a few times each year, the 2010 MLB season provided a litany of examples where booth review could and should have been better utilized.

From blown no-hitters to playoff catches that were ruled as hits, Bud Selig's inability to properly institute replay review into MLB is inexcusable. Home-runs are generally obvious, and circumstances which call for a review of a home-run are few and far between, whereas fair/foul, catch/non-catch, error/hit, and safe/out calls could use the assistance of video replay on a near daily basis. Because MLB does not institute replay to its full use, they rank second on my list for bad officiating. Obviously, this leaves us with one league left: the NBA.

I will be the first to admit that I am not a huge NBA guy, but this is my primary reason why. While I enjoy watching Bulls games and certain playoff match-ups in the NBA, nothing is more frustrating to me than the incredibly one-sided refereeing which takes place during every single game played every year. I watch less basketball than I would because I cannot handle how the league's superstars literally get to play by a different set of rules than the majority of the players.

If you are a superstar in the NBA, nobody can touch you without having a foul called on them. Likewise, you seemingly automatically are allowed to get away with fouls that would be called on any regular player once you have reached the appropriate superstar status. Once you add in all the referee gambling allegations and additional concerns that every fan of the NBA must take into account before sitting down to watch a "fair" game, the frustration levels for me simply rise through the roof. I must consider the NBA to be the worst-officiated league out of the four major sports.

Something tells me that avid soccer fans would argue with this, and they may have a legitimate claim here, but my soccer knowledge is far too shallow for me to comment any further on that topic than this. Fans of the Olympics have plenty of questionable situations to present as evidence as well, but with the range of sports covered in the Olympics, I opted to leave them out of this discussion...

So, considering primarily the NFL, NHL, MLB, and NBA, which league would you say is officiated the worst? I give the NFL an honorable mention, but the popularity of football equates to so much extra attention to every call that I feel the refs are criticized slightly more than they deserve.

My money stays with the NBA as the worst, but the MLB, for its lack of utilizing video review, is right behind it.

[Click to see an interesting list of one writer's ten worst calls ever]


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  • Interesting column! I certainly lack the experience to judge the officiating of the various pro sports. However, I do feel strongly that all sports should either revert to all-human officiating (no gadgets or technology intervening, at all) - OR use technology to the utmost, and in every instance.

  • I have a very limited knowledge on the subject but i would have to go with MLB based on what I know. The fact that there are so many pitches in every game, each of which is subject to error in calls is alone enough to boost the MLB to the top of my knowledge limited list. On top of that though is what you have stated:the lack of video review on important game changing calls.

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