League circles reportedly are “concerned” that four of the referees who called the controversial NFC championship game have ties to Southern California.
According to ESPN, the fact that four referees are from the same area around Los Angeles, where the Rams are located, gives the league a bad look.
“The NFL put [itself] in a bad situation,” one officiating source told ESPN. “This is stuff that has to be taken care of prior to the game. It’s just guys not thinking of what’s going on, nobody doing their checks and balances. The league is usually pretty much on top of it. This is one that slipped through the cracks.”
The game has gained widespread criticism after officials missed a blatant pass-interference call on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, who was covering Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis late in regulation.
The call could have set the Saints up for a touchdown to essentially win the game. Instead, New Orleans had to settle for a field goal and the game went into overtime. The Rams won, 26-23.
“I haven’t heard anybody say the game was fixed; I have heard people say the crew F’ed up,” one high-level league source told ESPN. “But the optic is bad. It’s a legit issue and they should have figured that out.”
According to the report, Bill Vinovich, who led the game’s officiating crew, lives in Newport Beach, Calif. Down judge Patrick Turner lives in Lakewood, Calif., side judge Gary Cavaletto lives in Santa Barbara and back judge Todd Prukop lives in Mission Viejo, Calif.
All four men were located near the controversial no-call, either on the sideline or in the end zone.
“Officiating assignments are based on performance and not geographic location,” the NFL said in a statement Sunday.
Some league officials are now saying that referees with ties to a team’s hometown should not call that team’s games. The issue likely will bring up discussion during the NFL owners meetings in March.