Paul Newman once said, “Show me a good loser, and I will show you a loser.” I actually think he stole that gem from Vince Lombardi, who may have stolen it from Red Auerbach. It doesn’t really matter, though, because they both stole it from the six-time national champion Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne, who went through the trouble of basically inventing the forward pass to avoid losing.

Well, add my name to this esteemed list, because as long as we’re stealing quotes, I really hate losing too. All my life I’ve been a terrible loser, and I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit it. So when my flag football team goes 0-4 a season after going 3-1 with almost the exact same team, I get upset and, like any bad loser, look for someone other than myself to blame for this debacle. It didn’t take me long to find the culprit, and I’m sure Red or Knute would have been proud. My flag football team went winless because intramural officiating is about as fair as the off-campus housing system or when my brother, Johnny, beats me at Wii Tennis because he gets to practice all semester while I’m at school.

My officiating frustrations began in the first game of the season when one of our players returned an intercepted extra point to the other team’s end zone. The play was called dead, and no points were awarded to our team. I complained at the time, but it took until week four for the same official to admit that, sure enough, it’s right there in the rulebook that a returned interception is worth as many points as the other team was trying for. Perhaps if a supervisor had been in attendance the mistake could have been fixed, but this first-year referee was all alone on night one.

Another head-scratcher that happened more than once was when the opposing team faced fourth and short, and the quarterback jumped over the line for the first down. Now the defense is totally powerless to stop this because they are required to line up a yard away from where the ball is hiked, but in both instances no penalty was called and the other team got a first down. Of course the good people at USSSA Flag Football prepared for this situation and mentioned it in their rulebook, calling “diving to advance the ball” illegal in all cases.

Perhaps the most ridiculous example of ignoring the rules occurred when an opposing team’s receiver made contact with one of our defenders, but his flag did not fall off until he started running again. When his flag fell off, everyone on the field stopped, but a player on the other team yelled at the ref that he wasn’t down until someone touched him. The player then started running toward the end zone, and a 10-yard reception became six points. Of course the USSSA has already thought of these sticky situations, as well, where a flag’s departure is not necessarily the work of a defender, so the rulebook clearly states, “If a flag is inadvertently dislodged and falls to the ground while a player is in possession of the ball, the runner in possession of the ball is down.” But I’m sure with the other team yelling at him, the ref forgot his extensive study of the rulebook.

A final frustration worth mentioning is the system of running the clock without pause until two minutes remain in the game. The refs actually do a pretty good job of keeping the game moving between plays, but they show their lack of understanding of the game by calling penalties that actually hurt the team they are supposed to reward. For example, during one extra-point attempt by the other team, as we were attempting a late-game comeback, the offense was called for offsides. The call reset the play clock, but the game clock continued to run. The result was 30 seconds off the clock during what, in any real football game, is dead time. It was also one of about three flags thrown all game, so I really question the official’s timing for checking to make sure his whistle still worked.

In general it seems that the refs are far too hesitant to use their whistles. At times there were as many as four officials on the field watching one of our games (though one back judge was texting throughout the first half), but rules on contact and blocking were almost never enforced. The USSSA rulebook says, “The defense may not use their hands to assist in getting around a block, and the offense must keep their hands, feet, and knees within the frame of their body while attempting to screen block.” This rule was never enforced, and blocking and rushing devolved into a competition to see who was more willing to break every rule in the book.

Officials also seemed to swallow their whistles on significant plays for fear of actually affecting the outcome. One flaw of flag football in general is that if a play really counts, the ball carrier or defender can always resort to full-contact tactics to advance the ball or end the play. In all of these situations, the officials would go quiet and let us fight it out. I have no problem with physical play, but once the game was in the books, the refs would often get some confidence and make a call. These calls were so sporadic and random; it was impossible to guess what was legal and what was not. With a one-touchdown deficit in our final game, our quarterback was pulled down from behind while trying to advance a first down, and several plays later one of our defensive backs basically tackled an opposing receiver to prevent a catch, without a flag in either case. But when the game was out of reach and only seconds remained, the official put away his cell phone and called an illegal block. If the officials lack the confidence to make a call on fourth and short, they should stay quiet and let us play when the game is essentially over.

I know what many ref-apologists may be thinking. I’m being overly harsh and critical toward a group of students doing their best. Is this the line of reasoning that is supposed to make me feel better when a Corp employee breaks my friend’s GoCard or takes 15 minutes to pour me a coffee? If I wrote a column with glaring mistakes and exaggerations, I wouldn’t hide behind my status as a student writer. The fact is they are getting paid to do a job, and they aren’t doing it well. The intramural department wouldn’t know this though, because when supervisors attend games, they are almost always only watching the A-league game going on in the next field. In fact, as I watched the final two games of our season from the sidelines with a broken finger, I was never joined by a supervisor of any kind.

This is nothing new, though. The officiating was just as bad last year, and if my memory was better I could certainly add to my list of egregiously bad calls, but I didn’t write a column on bad officiating last year. Why? Because my team won three out of four games. After all, I’m not a ref hater, just a really bad loser. Or as Rockne might say, a really good winner.

Jamie Leader is a junior in the College. He can be reached at leaderthehoya.com. FOLLOW THE LEADER appears every other Friday in HOYA SPORTS.

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