NFL could be susceptible to corruption

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Billy Witz

Billy Witz has contributed to The New York Times and covered a multitude of sporting events. A Tulane University grad, Witz has won Associated Press Sports Editor awards for investigative reporting, feature writing and game stories. He covered the Lakers' every move last season for FOX Sports West.


The enduring image from Monday night’s Sitcom in Seattle was the heretofore anonymous side judge Lance Easley, with his arms raised overhead, looking at previously unheard of back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn, who was waving his arms overhead.

NFL replacement officials


Now that an agreement is in place, see how the replacement official fiasco blew up and was finally solved.

You say touchdown.

I say touchback.

Let’s call the whole thing off.

The comic ending to the Seattle Seahawks' 14-12 “victory” over the Green Bay Packers has unleashed a firestorm of calls from seemingly every corner of the United States for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to settle the labor dispute with the regular referees and allow the replacement referees to return to small college, junior college and high school football.

Even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who set off a national brushfire of his own last year by going after state workers’ pensions, tweeted that it was time to bring the regular referees back.

One place where those calls won’t be coming from is Las Vegas — at least not yet.

“If it’s about incompetence, it just means there’s an increased randomness and everyone has a chance to benefit or suffer,” said RJ Bell, the CEO of “If you lose, you feel unlucky. And bettors are used to feeling unlucky. They like excuses, and the referees are an easy one.”

NFL official


NFL officiating impasse threatens players' safety and what the game stands for, Mike Pereira writes.

If the outcry from Monday night's game has not softened the NFL’s hard-line approach with its referees, then Bell suggests there is something that could. If it is found that the referee’s bad decisions are not simply the result of ineptitude.

And with the replacement referees, who are working for about $3,000 per game (close to half a regular head referee’s salary), facing incredible scrutiny, having a short-term outlook, and with uncertain background checks, it could be a recipe for disaster.

If a replacement official did not think it was inappropriate to work a Saints game when he posted photos of himself in Saints gear on his Facebook page, then how inscrutable is everyone else?

If another replacement referee told Eagles running back LeSean McCoy that he hoped had a good game because McCoy was on the referee’s fantasy league team, then what else is inappropriate?

athletes who share too much


The NFL's replacement official debacle hit a new low Monday night in the Seahawks' 14-12 win over the Packers. See the controversial call.

“The economic equation — what am I going to gain? what do I lose if I get caught? — favors corruption,” said Bell, who noted that the league had only weeks or months to delve into hundreds of officials’ backgrounds. “I think we’ve seen it’s upward of $20,000 to fix a game, so add all those elements together and the potential for corruption has never been higher in recent memory.

"That’s a very interesting topic for the league. It’s the worst possible thing. You saw with David Stern and (referee Tim) Donaghy how devastating it can be.”

Donaghy’s accusations of corruption, though they were never confirmed, still loom in the background many times there are controversial calls in the NBA playoffs.

Pat Morrow, the head oddsmaker for, said there has been nothing to indicate any unscrupulous reasoning behind any controversial calls this season, but that it was fair to wonder.

“These concerns are especially well founded after not being too far removed from the NBA and Tim Donaghy,” Morrow said. “There’s been nothing to indicate that it’s anything more than absolute negligence. But when you had that incident with McCoy, my gosh, it speaks to the lack of due diligence of the NFL. Right now, we’re erring on the side of a lot of ignorance.”

Morrow and Bell said betting lines may soon begin to be adjusted by a half-point or a point to reflect a home-team bias, giving legs to the perception that the replacement referees are intimidated by home crowds, coaches and players. Perhaps not coincidentally, the controversial finishes in the nationally televised games Sunday and Monday night each favored the home team, Baltimore and Seattle.

Of course, in the betting world, controversy is not such a bad thing. It might lead to the creation of a new line — on when the regular referees will return.

“We’re working on it right now,” Morrow said.

Tagged: Eagles, LeSean McCoy

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