By Curt Macysyn
There are at least two sides to every story, apparently except when it comes to the NFL handing out punishment. Sports television and radio talking heads were aghast on Monday, almost entirely focused on Odell Beckham’s conduct on Sunday, with some even saying Beckham deserved an unprecedented two-game suspension for his actions during the game. Beckham was issued three personal foul penalties, as an ongoing war with Panthers cornerback Josh Norman devolved into an MMA match in the middle of Sunday’s contest at MetLife Stadium.
After time has been given to peel back this onion, more light has been shed on the conduct of Beckham, Norman and the Carolina Panthers both prior to and during the game against the Giants, and it has become obvious that the NFL can and should do more to prevent this type of event from escalating as it did.
Practice Squad Player With A Bat
Unfortunately for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, where there’s smoke, there is usually fire.
After Sunday’s pregame shenanigans by the Panthers, Riverboat Ron took the supposedly preemptive step of banning the the team’s motivational symbol, a black Louisville slugger, from being taken out on the field during warm-ups. “Because I’ll hear it if I don’t [end it],” Rivera said Tuesday. “That’s the truth of the matter. I’m going to end up hearing it, so to avoid the set of circumstances let’s just eliminate it. That’s what we’re going to do. [The NFL], it’s the ‘No Fun League’ for a reason.”
David Newton of ESPN.com is also reporting that in reality the league put the “motivational” bat on ice for the Panthers. “In a memo responding to the Panthers carrying bats onto the field to use as motivation, NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent reminded teams ‘that no foreign objects unrelated to the uniform or playing equipment are permitted on the playing field and sidelines on game day (which includes the pregame period, during the game, and postgame on the field)’.” Vincent asked teams to advise “players and personnel that they will be subject to discipline for any violations of the policy set forth above.”
It appears that there is crystal clear evidence that Carolina violated this edict with merely a warning memo slap of the wrist. To Rivera’s point about the no fun league, maybe he should take a step back and acknowledge that his players took their “motivational tool” a bit far. As far as symbols, maybe the team could use something more subtle like an assault rifle or switch blade to motivate them. The “bring the wood” garbage they been selling is actually more like somebody’s attempt at spin control for an inappropriate prop gone bad.
Each week at almost every game, we see officials breaking up a fight between combatants in the NFL. Everyone understands that emotions get out of hand, but the official’s primary purpose is to officiate the game, not break up fights. In retrospect, how different would this game have been if the officials called a personal foul on Josh Norman when he threw down Odell Beckham on the first series?
NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino also had the same thought. “For me, looking at the tape, there were two or three opportunities early in the game to throw a flag and set the tone,” Blandino said. “We always want to set the tone early. Not make something up, but when something rises to the level of unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct, we can’t miss those opportunities, because that sets the tone of the entire game. There were a couple there that we missed early on.”
Rather than state the obvious, it is incumbent upon Blandino and the NFL to figure out why the officiating crew was not ready for a game that had as much advance warning of trouble as this game had. Do NFL officials work in that much of a silo that the pregame chatter and antics did not give them adequate notice that they were going to need to potentially clamp down early and often?
The NFL assigned Terry McAuley’s crew to officiate the game, and McAuley is a three-time Super Bowl referee, so the idea that the officiating crew was out of there league does not wash either.
Blandino later tried to rationalize why at least Beckham was not ejected, and unfortunately his excuse makes the officials look neutered. “We don’t take disqualifications lightly,” Blandino said. “It’s a short season and the action really has to rise above and beyond the normal course, and this certainly did.” Clearly the league advises its officials against ejecting players, but keep in mind that the league does not have an ejection problem, and the extreme caution surrounding ejections came around to bite the league in the rear end this time.
The reality is that officials do not really eject players, players eject themselves through conduct that goes outside of the rules of play, which is why officials should simply officiate the game. In essence, we can see where the NFL has taken their complex job and made it more complex for reasons unknown.
Instead of dealing with an ejection, the Giants are dealing with a one-game suspension for their most dynamic player, in what has become a make-up call. And for the record, all official are advised against giving a make-up call during the course of a game. It becomes clearer by the week that the NFL has an officiating problem that undoubtedly can be solved. In the spin doctor world of the NFL, it does not seem possible that Blandino is the person to solve this crisis. Roger Goodell has become chief tinker artist of the league; more of a reactive technician than a visionary.
Maybe Goodell does not want to have to talk to Jerry Jones or Robert Kraft after one of his players has been ejected. Easy enough, ban those phone calls.
In addition, officials should be instructed not to break up fights, call less pass interference penalties and eject for conduct as necessary.College football officials seem to have adapted to this new focus, why is the NFL behind the curve again?
Cap On Personal Foul Penalty Calls
High school football requires officials to eject a player or coach after his second unsportsmanlike penalty call, but the NFL has no such rule. In his letter to Beckham, vice president of football operations, Merton Hanks indicated that Beckham’s suspension was handed down for multiple violations of safety-related playing rules in the game against the Carolina Panthers, which would be a first in NFL history.
The NFL likely chose the multiple offense scenario because a suspension to make up for a missed ejection would have become a slippery slope. But the multiple offense strategy is not a slam dunk either.
Since a suspension under these circumstances has never occurred, Beckham’s team were well within their rights to challenge its validity. Previously, how many players have acquired as many or more penalty calls in a game without suspension? Given that this suspension is without precedent, Beckham likely argued that the league is selectively prosecuting him. Does he have a point?
In order to avoid these circumstances, the NFL may want to consider a cap on personal fouls and/or unsportsmanlike conduct calls, because if there is anything that the NFL has proven recently, it is that they are short on providing consistency, and this would simply require applying an already existing rule book standard within the context of the game, where it actually belongs.