Were you watching from the International Space Station you would have been able to see an obvious pass interference during the final regulation play moments of Sunday’s National Football Conference championship game. Lacking celestial perspective, however, the referees on the field did not make the penalty call, even though everybody else could see it, and thereby set off a firestorm.
A major exercise in collective hand-wringing ensued, which was understandable and hardly an overreaction. The now-famous non-call did not deprive the New Orleans Saints of a victory, though a New Orleans victory at the moment of the non-call was near certain. The Saints still had a chance to win in overtime. What the non-call did do was take the jaws of defeat from the Los Angeles Rams, the team that claimed victory and is now going to the Super Bowl to face the New England Patriots, a team that you could argue also benefited from a little referee perspective in the AFC title match.
Lots of the hand-wringing came over how to prevent such an egregious mistake from happening again. You don’t want blown calls to decide games, much less championships. My own two cents would call for an additional referee who remains off field watching the game in real time on video, complete with the replay ability that everyone else watching gets to have. That referee could intervene when a mistake is obviously made. But that is just one of many suggestions that have been made in the wake of the Saints’ tragedy.
At about the same time as the hand-wringing was in full swing came an Associated Press report on proposition bets, also known as prop bets. Prop bets are when you bet on something beyond an outcome, such as how many touchdown passes Tom Brady will have when the Pats beat the Rams (oops, did I just place a bet?) or how many yards a running back will accumulate. You could extend this to just about anything, I suppose. People play drinking games based on how often a celebrity, or politician, says a certain word. Just about anything is possible in the realm of prop betting.
Now that sports betting is becoming legal in places it wasn’t before, now that opportunities to wager are expanding, there is mounting concern. The National Football League, for one, would like to see prop betting restricted, or even banned.
Examples of prop betting include “even how many flags a referee might throw in a contest,” said Jocelyn Moore, NFL executive vice president. Moore was speaking before a U.S. House of Representatives committee in September.
“These types of bets are significantly more susceptible to match-fixing efforts, and are therefore a source of concern to sports leagues, individual teams, and the athletes who compete,” she said. “To address concerns regarding risk betting fixtures, we encourage Congress to allow professional and amateur sports organizations to identify which types of bets simply pose too significant a risk to the integrity of sports and to work with regulators not to authorize them.”
This all sounds reasonable enough, but you wonder whether it’s a little like asking the genie to get back into the bottle.
Some say the worry over prop betting is an overreaction, but it’s worth noting that in many places legalized betting is just getting started.
And at the very least it’s a reminder that when a referee makes a blunder there’s more than the outcome of a game, or even the question of which team gets to go to the Super Bowl, riding on it.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or email@example.com
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