Philadelphia Eagles fans have been so loud about their distaste for referee Pete Morelli and his crew, including a petition to block him from officiating any more Eagles games, that the NFL Referees Association felt the need to put out a statement.
Brandon Lee Gowton at Bleeding Green Nation has been one of the most vocal critics of Morelli since last Thursday’s game, in which the Eagles were penalized 10 times for 126 yards and the Carolina Panthers had one penalty for 1 yard (the Eagles won the game 28-23). He has pointed out the discrepancy in calls for and against the Eagles in games by Morelli’s crew. The numbers are startling:
Pete Morelli’s crew in last FOUR Eagles games
Philly penalties – 40 for 396 yards
Opponent penalties – 8 for 72 yards
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) October 13, 2017
Others in the Philadelphia media have noted those stats over the past week. An online petition, signed by more than 71,000 Eagles fans, is trying to prevent Morelli’s crew from working another Eagles game.
“I would definitely sign that petition if it came across my desk,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins told NBC Sports Philadelphia.
The NFL Referees Association never mentioned Morelli or the Eagles in its statement Thursday so perhaps it was talking about other reports of bias. Fans of all 32 teams think the officials have it out for them, so there are complaints from everywhere. But let’s assume the NFLRA statement has to do with the Eagles fans’ gripes. FootballZebras.com, which had a table comparing the calls for and against the Eagles in games officiated by Morelli, had the statement:
WASHINGTON – The NFL Referees Association strongly denounces recent media reports alleging bias in NFL officiating.
“Claims like these demonstrate a fundamental lack of knowledge about NFL officiating,” said NFLRA Executive Director Scott Green. “NFL officials are graded on every call made in every game. Missing a single one can hurt his or her ranking and may be the difference between working in the postseason or not.”
“These recent attempts to sensationalize statistics and create click-bait headlines lack important context,” Green continued. “Without the proper perspective, the information being pushed is completely misguided.”
- The reports incorrectly focus solely on number of penalties called and the total yardage assessed on a team compared to its opponent.
- This relies solely on end-of-game statistics, which are not an accurate picture of the game’s called penalties. It fails to take into account that some penalties that are called are declined.
- Conversely, not all penalty yardage is equal. Team A may be assessed 30 penalty yards via six separate five-yard fouls, but Team B could be assessed 30 yards through one pass interference penalty.
- Finally, to insinuate that a specific crew is historically biased against a team fails to consider the reality that crews are made up of different officials each season.
“The passion of NFL fans and teams are a big part of what makes the game so great,” Green said. “However, it’s no excuse for the irresponsible and baseless claims we’ve seen lately. NFL officials are committed to upholding the integrity of the game and do so every week.”
While we’ve seen discrepancies come up before with officials and certain teams – the Dallas Mavericks had an infamously bad record for a time in games officiated by Danny Crawford, for example – I don’t believe the NFL is fixed or officials want to see certain teams lose. It’s hard to explain the discrepancy, although four games is still a very small sample, but it isn’t proof that Morelli hates the Eagles.
However, once the perception of bias starts, it’s going to be there until the story dies down. I doubt the NFL goes out of its way to avoid assigning Morelli any more Eagles games, but it will be aware of the attention it will draw in Philadelphia when that crew gets the Eagles.
And if there’s another game in which Morelli’s crew gives the Eagles more penalties than the opponent, the criticism will get louder.
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