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Troy Vincent sends pep-talk letter to game officials

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Mike Florio and Peter King discuss the officials' clear missed call on Jason Kelce after the Eagles center attempted to pull Kenneth Gainwell into the end zone against the Texans.

It’s no secret that the NFL has an officiating problem. The folks who do the job miss too many calls, and the NFL persistently refuses to embrace technologies that would help reduce and/or rectify the errors.

Upgrades that would truly assist the officials when it come to getting the calls right are expensive. Giving them a public pat on the back is free.

Via Judy Battista of NFL Media (an outlet owned and operated by the league), NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent sent a letter to all game officials on Friday. It looks and reads like a pep talk, as the 18-week season closes in one the midway point.

In the letter, Vincent expresses his “gratitude and appreciation” for the “commitment to excellence” of the various game officials.

“Expectations are always high,” Vincent wrote. “Perfection is demanded from all quarters. Like with players and coaches, officiating is not always perfect, but you are the best in the world as you aim for perfection and achieve excellence. No one knows more than you the pressures of game administration and ‘getting it right’ with one look at full speed, then every call dissected with multiple angles in slow motion. With 22 players on the field at once, you must make multiple decisions pre-snap, and after the play. Overall, you do an excellent job.”

Vincent’s comment is entirely accurate, but it underscores the failure of the league to devise and implement vehicles for bridging the gap between the full-speed, naked-eye action the officials observe and everything we see at home. The league is either too cheap to pay for the necessary upgrades, or too concerned that they’d screw it all up -- like they did when pass interference calls and non-calls became subject to replay review in 2019.

And as to Vincent’s “best in the world” comment, we’re only 10 years removed from Commissioner Roger Goodell believing that the NFL game officials could be easily replaced with officials from lower levels of the sport, with no significant reduction in the quality of the officiating. As explained in Playmakers, some in the league office were amazed that the replacement officials experience during the 2012 lockout wasn’t even more of a disaster than it turned out to be.

“You are under incredible scrutiny,” Vincent continued in his letter. “We understand that. That’s the world we live in. There will always be tight judgment calls that will generate controversy. In working closely with you, I want to commend you for the tireless game preparation and your commitment to consistency and excellence.”

Again, that rings hollow. How tireless can the game preparation be when the officials have other jobs? When the league isn’t willing to pay what it would take to get part-time officials to become full-time employees?

Whatever the “commitment to consistency and excellence,” it’s undermined by the reality that NFL officials are for the most part moonlighting. Working a side hustle that pays them well to travel the country and be in the middle of the action for the biggest sport around.

And as to the “incredible scrutiny” that officials are facing due to the “world we live in,” that world have become infiltrated by legalized gambling. The scrutiny goes with the territory. It’s territory the league has embraced, given the many millions it can and will earn from its various sports book partners.

But don’t take our word for it. In 2009, when the NFL fought in court to keep Delaware from adopting legalized gambling, Commissioner Roger Goodell said this: “Normal incidents of the game such as bad snaps, dropped passes, turnovers, penalty flags and play calling inevitably will fuel speculation, distrust and accusations of point-shaving and game-fixing.”

That’s were the “incredible scrutiny” comes from. The “world we live in” has been created in part by the NFL’s stunning about-face when it come to legalized gambling, from hating it to loving it. And to profiting mightily from it.

So, please, spare us the pep talks and the P.R. ploys. Telling the officials they’re doing a great job and leaking the letter to the media is a far cry from the officials actually doing a great job. And it’s an even farther cry from spending the money necessary to truly improve the officiating function, so that the scrutiny doesn’t result in official governmental oversight of the sport, and so that there’s no way the NFL can have its own Tim Donaghy scandal.