Jim Harbaugh's tirade against the officiating on Saturday against OSU will probably earn him a hefty fine from the Big-10 officiating committee, not that he really cares. I watched most of the game, and without nary a dog in the fight - couldn't disagree with anything he said. From my vantage point, it clearly looked like Michigan was on the short-end of some horrendous calls/no-calls.
But it's not something exclusive to college football, as I've heard more grumbling and ranting about the overall state of terrible, inconsistent officiating in the NFL this season than any other season I can ever recall. And this has occurred during a time, mind you, when the league officials have implemented failsafe measures (like instant replay) to help ensure that a horrendous judgement call by an official doesn't have nearly the influence to determine the outcome of a game, at least compared to just a decade ago. Yet we continue to see clear and undeniable missed calls or no-calls that can and sometimes do influence the outcome of a game.
On that same token, however, I also realize how incredibly difficult it must be for an NFL referee to get everything right. He not only has to be viewing the play from the right angle and from the right location - he also has to process the speed of the action much much quicker than referees back in the day. The game is faster than it was 10 years ago, not only with hurry-up offenses becoming more popular, but the players themselves tending to be stronger, faster and more athletic as well. And, most significantly... holding could literally be called on every play if it were enforced literally to the letter. Same with pass interference, both offensive and defensive. That wouldn't be acceptable, without 5-hour games and about 10 more sponsors purchasing additional ad time, not to mention the fact that 3 hours is already pushing the envelope as far as keeping a viewer interested.
The other aspect, which isn't talked about too often, is sports gambling and Fantasy league play. It's actually tripled in just the past decade, at least within the NFL. So although popularity has increased over the past ten years, much of that can be attributed to the armchair fan who today has a monetary stake in how players perform, which in turn can be directly impacted based on how well or how poorly game officials do their jobs.
But to be honest, I really don't think much has changed over the years with regard to officiating. If anything, I think officiating might actually be better today than it was 20 years ago. And the reason I offer that, as often as I hate seeing blown calls, bad calls, or no-calls influencing the outcome of a game like anybody else, is because high-def, frame-by-frame super slo-mo instant replay puts these NFL referees today under enormous scrutiny, something their predecessors didn't have to deal with to such a magnifying degree not all that long ago. They're gonna miss calls. They're gonna throw flags when maybe they should've let play continue as-is. I guess the big thing were hoping for as fans, more than anything else, is consistency, maybe?
Whether or not you see that as a valid argument, one thing is clear: the fallout from bad officiating, whether it's a product of modern-day technology making it more obvious today compared to back when, or whatever, is quite often warranted.
The only other option is to do away with instant replay altogether, but I don't think that's gonna happen. And I'm not suggesting it should - whatever can be done to make the game more fair, more efficiently officiated and managed, is better than being forced to live with the sometimes costly result of a mistake. Officiating, in the end, can certainly be better no matter how you look at it.