NFL officiating controversy: League needs to implement 'sky judge' option for overturning egregious mistakes

Monday night felt like a tipping point for the NFL when it comes to officiating issues, with the Lions being robbed of a divisional road victory thanks to multiple blunders in favor of the Packers from Blake Cleteman's crew. No one thinks there were shenanigans at play here, but the optics for the NFL are awful, especially as the league continues to openly embrace a more legalized form of sports betting.

There are already jobs at stake with each one of these games -- the difference in a Lions win and a Packers win was literally the difference between first and last place in the NFC North. 

There were controversial calls in the Packers' win over the Lions and there's a lot to go over. Fortunately Will Brinson, John Breech, Ryan Wilson and Sean Wagner-McGough are here to break everything down on the latest episode of the Pick Six Podcast. Listen to the full show below and be sure to subscribe right here.

Anyone pretending these calls didn't matter -- and there are plenty of them -- has lost their mind. Trey Flowers was called for illegal hands to the face twice, with both fouls coming on third down. In between those calls, there was a horrifically whiffed pass interference call that could not have possibly been more obvious and easy to call. 

Matt Patricia didn't challenge because, frankly, Al Riveron has made it clear challenging pass interference is the rough equivalent of setting a timeout on fire. No one is really mad at him for not challenging it, because the NFL made it clear challenging these pass interference calls is a futile exercise, even though the NFL instituted a major replay change in order to allow coaches to prevent these issues.

So now it's time for the NFL to make another change. Things have gotten out of hand. Back in the offseason, there was a push by some members of the competition committee to institute a "sky judge" -- essentially an additional official added to each game's crew, but one who would sit up in the booth/box, watching the game and utilizing replay angles to buzz down and correct egregious errors.

The goal was to "get it right" according to NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, which seems fairly important in the wake of the debacle that was the Lions and Packers game.

"We just want to get it right," Vincent said at the time. "We're debating what that change is, if any. As we always say, the [owners] will tell us what they want to do. The league doesn't get a vote."

The idea of the sky judge didn't get pushed through when NFL owners voted to change the pass interference replay setup and it was never really on the table. But it was clear that more teams wanted more replay before. Why not make a drastic change and institute the sky judge right now? 

Currently in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the owners are meeting to discuss various issues. Officiating should be first and foremost in the wake of Monday night's nightmare. Regardless of what Jerry Jones says about the positive water cooler buzz the NFL receives from controversy surrounding officials, this is a bad look for the NFL. It causes fans to question the validity of the game and of what they're seeing on the field and rightfully so. 

Owners want the game to "be played in the stadium" according to Vincent. That's fine. I get it. But the owners also need to recognize how the landscape shifted in the last 10 years: they should, since the majority of their revenue comes from national television broadcast deals. Plenty of fans are in the stadium, but far more are watching at home or elsewhere on television.

There's clearly a setup here which makes sense for the NFL moving forward, in a world of obviously overwhelmed officials and an instantly available plethora of HD replays. 

For starters, make sure the sky judge can only step in should there be a clear and obvious/egregious mistake made. An example would be the hands to the face situation with Trey Flowers. In that case, the officials involved were trying earnestly to make a correct call. But clearly upon review, and within seconds of the flag being thrown, there was enough replay evidence available to warrant someone buzzing down and picking up the flag. 

I'm torn how this would work when it comes to something like the pass interference non-call on Marvin Jones. The NFL wants to avoid missing clear and obvious calls while ensuring no egregious calls manage to make their way into the onto the field. 

Assuming they truly believed in that goal, their decision to institute replay for pass interference challenges makes no sense. After a call in Week 2 against the Steelers was overturned on a smart challenge by Pete Carroll, the Seahawks pulled away with a critical road victory. 

Since then, there's been a clear impetus from Riveron's office to stop overturning even the most obvious pass interference situations. According to Kevin Seifert of ESPN, 82 percent of pass interference challenges have been upheld during the regular season.

Patricia didn't challenge the Jones play on Monday night and no one batted an eye, because a) the outcome felt obvious and b) he desperately needed his three timeouts in the event of the Packers marching down the field to take the lead. I would have challenged out of spite, but I understand his hesitation. Coaches absolutely do not know whether or not they should be challenging play calls they were informed they could challenge. 

Giving the "sky judge" the power to buzz down during pass interference situations could create issues as well, because it's a subjective decision. The power to flip a game would lie in the hands of one person watching from upstairs. But perhaps there's a system where the sky judge could buzz down and give the officials on the field the opportunity to examine the replay and confer with New York. 

If coaches don't actually have the power to overturn a pass interference penalty that looks obvious to everyone involved, take it out of their hand and let the sky judge/officials decide if something egregious was missed. 

This stuff is difficult in real time. It could potentially slow down games. But slowing down games shouldn't be considered a problem. The problem is having games -- and seasons and careers -- decided by getting calls wrong. 

It's where things stand right now and it's just not acceptable.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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