A cruel summer for the officiating business has put referees and umpires officials right where they aspire not to be: in the spotlight.
A blown call, tearfully confessed by umpire Jim Joyce last month, spoiled a young Detroit pitcher’s shot at baseball’s 21st perfect game. In South Africa, the world’s best referees disallowed goal after valid World Cup goal, enraging U.S. and English soccer fans in particular.
On-field officials understand that fans' and players' scorn are inseparable from their job. Those who work behind the scenes with professional referees and umpires say that underneath their stoic exteriors are proud and competitive people who suffer during poor performances just as athletes do — but can't show their vulnerability for fear of losing control of games.? “You owe it to those players to have full focus,” said Paul Tamberino, director of referee development for U.S. Soccer. “If you dwell on it, you're going to miss the next one.”
Added Nelson Rodriguez, vice president of game operations for Major League Soccer: “I think referees are as competitive as players and coaches are, in their own right.”
The plight of referees and umpires has been magnified by viral video and 24-hour sports channels that keep fans apprised of each new outrageous call, said Mike Port, vice president of umpiring for Major League Baseball.
“Very, very rarely do you see something on one of the baseball-oriented shows, 'Here's a great call for you!'” Port said.
An umpire moving into position for a confident call on a close play at first base can be a highlight and a teaching tool.
"Ninety-five percent of the things that happen in a sporting event will call themselves," said Jim Evans, a retired umpire who runs Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring in Kissimmee, Fla., each winter. "It's the five percent that is unexpected that makes it tough.”
To address that five percent, the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and professional tennis tours have adopted instant replay technology during the past three decades to offset the human element.
But no amount of training or technology will eliminate mistakes, said Tony Gonzalez, a 13-year NFL veteran who said he expects the NFL officials to catch 75 percent of penalties.
“There's an illegal something every single play,” said Gonzalez, a star tight end for the Atlanta Falcons. “That’s the last thing in the world I’d want to be is a ref. … You have to understand their perspective of it and realize how hard it is.”
Five worst recent blown calls
June 2, 2010
Jim Joyce, umpire
Armando Galaragga’s perfect game that wasn’t
Detroit’s Galaragga was one out away from retiring the Indians’ final batter for a perfect game when the pitcher toed first base for an apparently routine putout. But Joyce ruled Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe on a close play. Replays showed the call was wrong, but Galaragga had to settle for a one-hit shutout.
June 27, 2010
FIFA World Cup
Jorge Larrionda, referee
Frank Lampard’s missed goal
England was trailing Germany 2-1 in the second round when Lampard’s shot hit the cross bar, bounced into the goal and then back out. Larrionda, having missed the call along with his assistant linesman, allowed play to continue, and England lost 4-1.
Sept. 14, 2008
Ed Hochuli, referee
Blown fumble in Chargers-Broncos game
In the final minute, the Broncos were positioned on the Chargers’ one-yard line when quarterback Jay Cutler fumbled the ball and San Diego recovered while leading 38-31. Because Hochuli had whistled Cutler for an incomplete pass, Denver retained possession despite an official review. The Broncos scored a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to win the game 39-38.
June 18, 2010
FIFA World Cup
Koman Coulibaly, referee
Maurice Edu’s goal disallowed
The U.S. had the chance to take a 3-2 lead in its group-stage match against Slovenia when Edu scored off a free kick, but Coulibaly called a foul on Edu that disallowed the goal. Even days after the game, which ended in a draw, Coulibaly couldn’t explain his call.
June 26, 2010
Gary Cederstrom, umpire
Called third strike against Johnny Damon
In the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a full count, Cederstrom called Atlanta pitcher Peter Moylan’s outside pitch to Damon a strike, giving the Braves the win instead of walking in the tying run for the Tigers.
Referees and umpires across sports
The chair umpire sits to the side of the court at one end of the net. Line judges help determine if a shot is in or out.
About $45,000 per year
The International Tennis Federation conducts requires three levels of officiating school: beginning, intermediate and advanced.
In most major tournaments, players can challenge line calls using a ball trajectory-tracking system (Hawk-Eye) whose margin of error is about 0.14 inches.
Officials are routinely evaluated by more experienced official.
While little movement is required, officials must remain alert in case the ball comes flying at them.
Umpires work behind home plate and near each base. In the postseason, two additional umpires judge from left and right field.
Salaries range from $84,000 to $300,000 per year.
Conducted at two umpire schools, where the top participants move on to an evaluation course. From there, they can be hired in the low minor leagues.
Only on disputed home run calls
Former umpires hired as supervisors monitor the performance of active umpires.
Umpires stick to their stations, but they are often hit with or injured by balls or bats, especially the heavily protected home plate umpire.
Three referees follow the game as it moves up and down the court.
Salaries range from $100,000 to $300,000 per year
Referees first attend an invitational summer camp, then another developmental program. If these programs are completed successfully, the referee can be hired to work in the NBA Development League.
Used for a variety of reasons: time accuracy issues, determining the validity of a 3-point shot, shot clock violations, buzzer beaters, etc.
An NBA employee will follow a referee over the course of several weeks and evaluate each call he makes. The report is then sent to the Director of Officiating Performance Analysis.
Must stay in good physical condition to keep up with the pace of an NBA game.
The white-capped referee stands behind line of scrimmage and leads a crew of six other officials who wear black caps.
Between $25,000 and $75,000 per season
Officials working in the lower levels of American football (usually college) must first apply to officiate in the NFL and then be scouted. The NFL’s rigorous preseason training program for current officials includes hours of watching game tape and multiple written tests.
A coach can challenge two calls (with the exception of penalties) per regulation game. Most challenges relate to changes in possession or whether a player is inbounds or down.
Supervisors grade each officiating crew and track their accuracy throughout the season.
Amid frequent stoppages of play, referees still must keep up with the athletes and avoid dangerous collisions.
One referee and one linesman follow players on the ice. The referee has final authority and calls most violations, while the linesman focuses on calls that involve the red and blue lines on the ice, such as offsides or icing.
Salaries range from $110,000 to $255,000
The NHL Officials Association recommends an official training school that teaches how to officiate and is attended by NHL representatives. Referees also must pass knowledge of rules tests and prove that they are mentally and physically prepared to officiate in the NHL.
The central replay office in Toronto communicates by phone with officials to sort out disputed calls.
Each official is evaluated several times throughout the season and graded as “meeting,” “exceeding” or “failing to meet” league expectations.
Officials must display physical fitness and superior skating skills in order to follow the action of an NHL game.
A single referee patrols the field while two assistant referees judge from the sidelines. The assistants make out-of-bounds and offsides calls, as well as help the referee on plays in which he does not have an adequate view.
Referees working the 2006 World Cup earned about $30,000 for the tournament.
For FIFA to recognize someone as a referee, he or she must attend a referee class and pass a test at the end to gain certification. Referees are also observed during actual games, then must pass knowledge of rules tests and prove that they are mentally and physically prepared.
During the World Cup, FIFA monitors each match live to determine which officials earn the right to work in the later rounds.
Soccer is a physically demanding sport, so referees, like players, must be in excellent shape and able to stay in motion for 90-plus minutes.