The Sporting Iconoclast
Challenging the conventional wisdom, sowing new ideas, sending some old ones to the compost heap

Why are refs helping the offense during last-minute comebacks?

Next time you’re watching an NFL game in which a team is out of timeouts and trying to score in the last few seconds, watch the officials.

Tell me you haven’t seen this a hundred times:

An offensive player is tackled inbounds.The quarterback waves frantically for everyone to line up.


Hurry, hurry!

The offensive players race to the line. And so do…the officials!

Look at them, middle-age men in zebra suits running around as fast as they can to spot the ball ready for play in the shortest possible time.


I mean, what is compelling them to spot the ball any faster than they have during the rest of the game?

There can be only one answer:They want to give the trailing team every opportunity they can to catch up.

Think of it this way:

At any other point in the game, or when the clock is stopped, it takes the officials, say, 25 seconds to retrieve the ball from the last play, toss it to a crewmate to spot on the closest hash mark, and finally signal to the timekeeper to start the play clock.

During end-of-game scrambles, they may do this in as little as five seconds.

This should raise two questions:

If they can do it in five, why don’t they do it in five during the rest the game?

On the other hand, if the reasonable time is 25 seconds, why are they going out of their way to do it 20 seconds faster when one team is trying to rally?

It only helps the rallying team and hurts the team trying to stay ahead.

In all fairness, the team that’s ahead should be able to count on 20 to 25 seconds elapsing between plays — all game long. A guy on the other team gets tacked inbounds with 15 seconds left and the clock is running? Game over, no worries.

Instead it’s Super Zebras to the rescue.

I’m waiting for the day a coach complains about this help-the-offense, end-of-game scramble on the part of the officials.

It’s fun to watch, but it’s not fair.

And it makes no sense.

Ed Cohen


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