What Contributed to That Wild Finish on Thursday Night Football?

Thursday Night Football, NFL, referees, Roger Goodell, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, New York Jets, game fixing, the fix is in
These guys figured in too many games this season.

On October 19, the Kansas City Chiefs visited the Oakland Raiders for a Thursday Night Football game.1 The Raiders were essentially handed a one-point victory after numerous calls at the goal line (although I wonder why a touchdown by their tight end was taken away in the first place). The result left many people scratching their heads and questioning how the officiating could be this bad.

This past week (October 15-21) saw some of the worst officiating I have ever seen for NFL games. And Last Sunday, the most-talked about game was the Patriots vs. the Jets — for all the wrong reasons.

In that game, There were two very bad calls and at least on non-call that went the Patriots’ way. The first bad call and non-call helped to get the Patriots in the game. They were previously down 14-0 early on. Then last questionable call took a touchdown away from the Jets when they could have pulled within three points of the Patriots.

The final score was Patriots, 24-17. The Jets might have been able to take that game to overtime at the very least without those questionable calls.

That Sunday game left many people questioning if the fix was in. That might have also led to them to website about sports scandals and speculation of the same name run by the author of the book of the same name.2

What do I think about the accusations of vote-rigging? Well, since I have been hearing this for a while, I wanted to put down my thoughts on the subject. I’m not particularly bothered by the accusations (yet), but I am by the debate itself.


Here Are My Thoughts After Last Week’s Thursday Night Football Game.

Honestly, the Thursday Night Football game in question (Chiefs at Raiders) had some of the worst officiating I have ever seen. Calls and no-calls went to both the Chiefs and Raiders, but most to the home team.

The most crucial, game-changing calls and non-calls went to the Raiders:

  • Uncalled offensive pass interference (OPI) to give them their first TD
  • A holding call to take away a David Carr fumble
  • The Raiders were given multiple chances to score the game-winning TD
  • Justin Houston being held all day long
  • Travis Kelce being seriously held on 3rd and 4 on the Chiefs’ last drive

That said, the Chiefs made critical mistakes of their own.

  • The defense was pretty bad, allowing chunk plays all day. They didn’t stop the Raiders on 4th and 11.
  • Tyreek Hill should have stayed in bounds to kill the clock.
  • Kelce should have fallen forward after his last catch. However, we shouldn’t really blame the offense at all.
  • I wondered at one point if Reid should have used his timeouts earlier to save time for his offense since the defense could not be trusted.
  • Reid should have benched one of his corners, Marcus Peters, for the rest of the game if the result was the same anyway. Peters has been acting up and he is putting together the worst season in his young career.

That still doesn’t excuse the poor officiating of the past week. And we thought the replacement refs were bad.


Do These Games Make Me Believe the NFL Is Rigged? Let’s Put on Our Tin-Foil Hats.

These games make me wonder. This whole year makes me wonder. This past week — the last two weeks, actually — was not the only one with seriously bad calls that exceed comprehension, because this season has been plagued with bad officiating.3 I think at some point it’s fair to question why paid officials would make some bad calls that anyone can clearly see are bad and if anything is motivating them to make these terrible calls.

All sorts of sports have been rigged to some extent.

Baseball has two of the biggest scandals in U.S. sports history. The Black Sox Scandal during the 1919 World Series was perhaps the biggest.4 Then there was Pete Rose, who bet on Major League Baseball games when he was the manager of the Reds.

Basketball has had point-shaving scandals in amateur competition, the scandal involving disgraced former NBA ref Tim Donaghy, and rigged lotteries. In addition, it is clear when some teams tank their seasons for the chance to get top lottery picks.

Soccer/Football has been plagued with game-fixing scandals for years. Games have been fixed by referees and others have been fixed by players, some of whom did so to resolve their own gambling debts. European leagues are beset with gambling scandals and it doesn’t help that a number of teams have partnerships and sponsorships with betting agencies.

Boxing has been hit with rigged matches from its existence. In 1949, Jake LaMotta threw a match against Billy Fox. And just this year, there were at least two questionable decisions.

Tennis has been plagued with years-long scandals, one involving Australians. Low-ranked men have been throwing matches in order to rake in more money than they would get from tournaments.

So …

Why shouldn’t we ask if American football is rigged?


Here’s How to Argue for or Against the Notion of Rigging in the NFL.

Given the above information, I think it’s fair to question the legitimacy of some NFL games. If something can be fixed, it will, especially when there’s money involved. However, there are many people who discount the notion that NFL games could be tampered with.

As I said at the top, I do not like the way the discussion usually goes.

Now, I understand that there are fans who get annoyed when then question comes up. They have every right to say that, and they have a point when they question if the accusers are just doing so because of sour grapes. Still, there’s no excuse for lashing out at the people who ask the question, especially when they acknowledge that their teams could also benefit from abnormalities in the game. Also, no one can say with any certainty whether or not NFL games have been rigged.

With that said, there are better ways for each side to argue their points. Below are a series of statements, some for the notion that games are rigged and some against that notion.

Against: There is no proof that NFL games are rigged.

There have been allegations America Football was rigged in the past. I have suspected some rigging myself, but I concede there is no proof. All we have right now is speculation, but no players have come out and said that they have fixed games.

For: Officials can have a profound effect on games.

For example, things like offensive holding can theoretically be called on every play. And often, certain types of holds are inconsistently called, especially late in the game.

Bad officiating influences the outcome of the game and too many calls can slow down games and ruin its flow. There is a thing called momentum and a(n) (un)timely call could take momentum from one team and give it to another.

Also:

Refs might also be compelled to make awful calls, due to pressure or their own bias. The question is: Who is providing this pressure and where do the refs’ allegiances lie?

Additionally:

The league office is in New York, which now makes all final review decisions. That could be exploited, if anyone wanted to do that.

Against: The game is too complex and it is too difficult to control all the action.

There are simply too many moving parts. There is no way a game fixer could account for missed blocks, bad reads, bad passes, mistimed routes, missed tackles, or good defensive plays. Sometimes a quarterback could make the right read and his pass could still miss his receiver. Defenders could miss offensive players due to poor technique or missed assignments.

Much of what happens in the game is due to excellent scheming, good execution, and human error. The referees are bad sometimes (and they have been pretty bad this year, to be honest), but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a fix.

Also, the league office would have to be incredibly anal to try to fix all the games.

For: All that is needed to fix a game is 1-2 players and/or a coach.

That is, outside of official help.

There was a special by PBS Frontline in 1983 about this topic, and a few of the people who were interviewed discussed how an NFL game could be fixed to help bookies. The special looked at Las Vegas and how betting lines were determined. When asked about the effects bookies and better lines could have on the game, then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle’s answers weren’t entirely convincing.

Fixing NFL games may be easier than you think.

Players like quarterbacks touch the ball on almost every play. They could fumble the ball, throw it away, throw interceptions, and seemingly do things that look like they are just making poor decisions.

Coaches are responsible for coming up with game plans, getting their players ready for games, and making adjustments to put their players in the best situations possible.

Now, I understand that accusing a player of fixing a game is one of the worst things you can say about them, but anyone could do things they wouldn’t normally do if they have a reason. Money is the top reason. Fear is another, especially when a person is being threatened (by members of the mafia).

Beyond that, the league would not have to fix all games. Just a small percentage of games in any week could be altered to change the complexion of the overall playoff race in either conference (the AFC and NFC). Then, there are only 11 postseason games, which are played one at a time.

Against: You cannot account for injuries.

Football is a rough sport and injuries, although they suck, are a part of the game. Anyone can be injured, from linebackers, defensive backs, running backs, kickers, and star quarterbacks. If these games were being arranged based on star power, for example, it would render the best-laid plans moot.

For: If there are injuries, the narrative can be shifted toward other players/coaches.

At the moment, there are only a few players considered elite (that’s the point of the term), but there are many possible “storylines” that could intrigue viewers and spectators. Some players might not have all the “sexy” stats, but people could admire them and some coaches because they are people with good character.

Also, it’s a team game. Teams have the support of their surrounding community and depending on the size of the market they’re in, they can have a huge following.

That said when a “golden boy” goes down another can have the spotlight put on him. And he could have a number of calls and non-calls to go his way to help his team stay in the hunt and advance in the playoffs.

Against: Fixing games like this is illegal.

If the league fixed its own games, that would be a form of racketeering, which is clearly in violation of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) laws.

For: Leagues can legally fix their games.

It’s not necessarily illegal for American sports leagues to rig their games — at least for entertainment purposes. Rigging to aid gamblers would be illegal, but it would be hard to prove let alone get a court to consider the cause.

A Jets fan brought against the NFL following the developments of Spygate in 2007. In 2010, the case was taken up by the United States 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the case ended in May 2010 with a ruling in which the judge said a ticket only granted the consumer the right to view a game and that the NFL was a form of entertainment.

The Key Parts of the Ruling

There were at least four key parts of the ruling in Carl J. Mayer’s case against the Patriots, but I will only share two:

Taking into account these principles, the numerous arguments of the parties on appeal, the record on appeal, and the District Court’s own ruling, we ultimately conclude that the District Court was correct to hold that Mayer failed to set forth a legally cognizable right, interest, or injury here. At best, he possessed nothing more than a contractual right to a seat from which to watch an NFL game between the Jets and the Patriots, and this right was clearly honored.

And:

We do not condone the conduct on the part of the Patriots and the team’s head coach, and we likewise refrain from assessing whether the NFL’s sanctions (and its alleged destruction of the videotapes themselves) were otherwise appropriate. We further recognize that professional football, like other professional sports, is a multi-billion dollar business. In turn, ticket-holders and other fans may have legitimate issues with the manner in which they are treated … Significantly, our ruling also does not leave Mayer and other ticket-holders without any recourse. Instead, fans could speak out against the Patriots, their coach, and the NFL itself. In fact, they could even go so far as to refuse to purchase tickets or NFL-related merchandise … However, the one thing they cannot do is bring a legal action in a court of law.

About RICO Laws

Given the above, it will be hard to get the NFL for violations here. Also, RICO laws have never really been enforced on American sports leagues.

I doubt the government cares. We have had grand juries about the use of steroids in baseball, but that has nothing to do with fixing matches even when it is clear that teams are tanking.


Here Are a Few Questions We Should Ask.

At the very least, we should ask ourselves a few questions to see where we stand on the issue.

Who Want to Rig the Game?

As I see it, there are at least 10 possible people/areas where we should look:

1. Roger Goodell

Most people would doubt the commissioner, Roger Goodell, would want to fix games. He is a tool of the owners — although his friendship with Patriots owner Bob Kraft concerns me. It had to pay some dividends.

When Spygate was grabbing headlines, Goodell made the decision to delete video tape connected to the spying. What was on those tapes and if they held nothing, why destroy them?

They’re supposed to be enemies now (since Deflategate started and Richard Sherman called them out on their bromance). But if you believe that crap, I have some oceanfront property in Nebraska I’d like to show you.

Beyond his personal favoritism, I can only see him working with some owners to let some players off easy. Some players are more valuable to their team than others because they give their teams the best chance to win. That isn’t exactly conducive to fixing games, but it is improper.

I can also see him covering for the refs because of the optics of not doing so.

2. The Owners

Would individual owners want to fix games? What would be in it for them? They’re billionaires.

I believe that a certain number of owners who have more power and clout than others. However, it’s unclear if they would want to fix games for more money.

On the other hand, teams who are looking for new stadium deals tend to win more.

  • The San Francisco 49ers turned their franchise around shortly before they were approved to build a stadium in Santa Clara.
  • The Oakland Raiders had their first winning season in over a decade shortly before they were approved for a new stadium in Las Vegas.
  • The Atlanta Falcons started winning again before their new stadium was approved.
  • The Minnesota Vikings went to the playoffs in 2012, shortly before their new stadium was approved.

For legacy owners, vanity and pride might also nbe in play. If a franchise has four Super Bowl championships, would a powerful owner convince the others to allow him to get a fifth? There’s no proof such an agreement has taken place, but it is something to think about.

3. The Players

Some players might be coaxed into throwing games or shaving off points, especially if they would make more money they otherwise might or in debt. Anyone who touches the ball, including kickers, might be able to do that. However, kickers are kept on shorter leashes nowadays and I don’t know if any type of payout would surpass what players are paid now.

4. Coaches

I can’t imagine any of the current coaches in the NFL would want to fix games. But if they did, it would likely be because they’re disgruntled, tanking their team for draft picks, or in debt.

5. The Referees

Referees are human beings. While they do make mistakes, some of them play favorites and some of them have to have been fans of teams or specific players. We have also seen coaches and players trying to schmooze with them. Those biases and that sweet talk could affect their calls.

There have also been times when people talked about the weird behavior of the referees. For instance, Steve Young said that a ref asked him to date the ref’s daughter in exchange for a favorable call. Cam Newton said that Ed Hocculi said that young quarterbacks won’t get certain calls. There might be a level of playfulness there, but that’s nothing to joke about.

Additionally, there could be a number of referees who are greedy or have gambling debts. They make an average of $173,000 a year (per 2013 numbers and their salaries will rise to $201,000 in 2016) and there was a lockout in 2012 just to get their salaries to what it is now. Theoretically, a referee, just like soccer players and refs, could be a gambler and fixing a game or at least making sure one team covers the spread could pay dividends.

6. Trainers/Equipment Managers

Just like any ref, coach, or player, a member of a team’s staff could be on the hook for a gambling debt. There could also be ringers who work to sabotage certain teams in service of another.

7. Bookies, Gamblers, & Gangsters

Any of these would look to find someone who could affect a game and change the outcome.

Gangsters in particular are racketeers.  If there are some messing with other sports and leagues, they would like to maintain a presence in the NFL, too.

8. Las Vegas

Gambling is a lucrative business and there are plenty of casinos in Nevada and outside the state which have betting lines. Would some casino owners like to determine the outcomes of games to make more money? It’s possible.

9. The Media

Local, national, and cable networks love to promote specific players. And it’s a win-win for them when those players are on good teams. However, injuries could change everything.

Regardless of what happens with injuries and all that, all teams have to be promoted to an extent and teams who play good football will keep the fans’ attention. The most talented sportscasters are great storytellers, and they can sell any team that’s in the chase.

Would broadcasters want to affect the outcomes of the games? I don’t see it. They do want entertaining games, but they take an assumed risk whenever they by any sports broadcasting package.

In any event, the media’s role is to serve as ambassadors to the games they carry and discuss, lest they lose their licenses to those games or pass to talk to league figures. They would do more cover-up, if anything.

10. Advertisers

The networks depend on the advertisers to make their money and sometimes, advertisers have used the power of their dollars to affect how certain storylines were told and what was aired. Would they do the same for NFL games?

Going to networks would be indirect and inefficient. But advertisers also have endorsement deals with players and the league. Do they choose to just endorse a few of their preferred players and put pressure on the NFL to aid those players?

How Would That Be Done?

There are basically a few ways:

  • With players and a coach, like I mentioned above. People who want to rig games would have to contact these people.
  • With the cooperation of officials. And they would have another layer by coordinating with officials in New York, who make the final decisions on replays.
  • With compromised staff members. Equipment managers and trainers have an effect on players and are partly responsible for getting players ready for games. A bad equipment manager could give players bad cleats, tampered helmets, doctor the balls if given access, or drug players by spiking their Gatorade. A trainer could mishandle an injury or pull rank to get a player off the field for a suspected injury.5

Why Would Anyone Keep This Secret?

There are a few reasons why:

First, there’s Greed. Never underestimate the depths of human greed. As with bookies, gangsters, and some gamblers and players, the money they make might not be seen as enough. We have billionaires who want even more money and press members of Congress for more tax breaks.

Second, threats can compel most people to keep a secret or comply with game-fixers. If it’s in the contract, players made be held to nondisclosure agreements under the threat of litigation.

Third, not everyone might be in on it. If there are players who are loath to cheat or fix games, they might also believe their game is clean. It’s not perfect, but they think it’s clean. They would then be used as ambassadors of the game because of their honesty and integrity, but they would be helping to keep the illusion intact.

What Do We Agree On?

1. The league is inconsistent, if not corrupt.

  • It has a spotty record on player safety.
  • Its sponsorships include alcohol companies and electronics, leading to bans of logos for certain brands.
  • Players are not always fairly punished for illegal hits and violations of the personal conduct rules.
  • Sometimes, players are spared from harsher punishments if they can help a big-market team. Small-market teams would be up a creek.

2. The owners are corrupt.

  • They flout the rules of the league.
  • They have partnerships with police departments to protect players from doing time for their crimes.
  • Owners also get states and municipalities to spend taxpayer money to fund their stadiums; tax revenues do not make up the cost.
  • Sometimes, teams do tank and it’s often obvious when they do.

3. The refs are terrible and might still suck if they had full-time gigs.

  • Many calls and non-calls are indefensible.
  • Officials should at least be consistent within each game.

Ultimately, we might not agree that the game is fixed, but we can agree that some teams don’t always earn their victories.

What will we do if and when there is proof?

Will fans stop watching or boycott the league? I have seen some people say they would stop watching if they had proof the NFL was rigged.

Would fans watch anyway, but demand more varied storylines with different teams tasting Super Bowl glory? In that case Mayer brought against the NFL, Shepard Goldfein, a lawyer for the NFL, said that people would watch even if they knew a team (in this case, the Patriots) were cheating.

Sadly, he’s right. Some people agree that would still watch the game if they knew it was fixed (but they would hope the league would then let more people win something).

Does It Really Matter?

In the scheme of things, games are not that important. The people who play it and watch it are.

And while sports are an escape, there are other things we can do with our time if the sports fail to entertain us. I think it shows character if people who are unsatisfied with the product before them move on and stop watching. They don’t have to watch, especially when it’s no longer fun for them.

In that respect, the league would be better served to let things happen organically instead of fixing crap for any reason.

By the way: Why should fans care if other people who don’t like the result say it’s rigged? If someone likes the outcome of the game, there’s no need to be an insecure prick. Just sayin’ …


My Ruling

I can’t say for certain that NFL games are rigged because there is so much plausible deniability. Many things that happen in games could be chalked up to good/poor planning, good/poor execution, human error, or incompetence. The NFL is also aided by our justice system’s lack of interest in our sports leagues.

Personally, I seriously doubt that the vast majority of today’s players and coaches would want to be a part of game fixing. However, I am leery of owners and referees, especially the latter.

Yes, players can decide the outcomes of games with their play, but sometimes both teams are more or less equal, so calls will help to decide the outcome, especially late in the game. When I look at how some calls and non-calls can change the complexion of games, something has to be said about that. Thus I feel it is fair to ask questions.

Additionally, while no one can say with any certainty that NFL games age rigged or which ones are/have been, it’s naïve to say that it couldn’t happen. If there’s a way and money’s involved, anything can happen.


Footnotes

  1. I wanted to publish this post on Friday or at least before this Sunday, but I got lazy. This is at least up before this week’s Thursday Night Football game.
  2. Brian Tuohy is the author of five books (and counting), including The Fix Is In. He runs a website of the same name where he talks about most sports, including Baseball, Basketball, Soccer/Football, and American Football.

I take much of what Tuohy says about the NFL with a grain of salt, because most of what we have to say about the game is speculative and can be explained away, unfortunately.

I should also note that Tuohy has done interviews with InfoWars, you know, the vehicle of Alex Jones.

Alex Jones, InfoWars, turn the freakin frogs gay
“I don’t like ’em putting chemicals in the water that turn the freakin’ frogs gay!”

Jones has come under fire this year for a few controversies. During a custody hearing, Jones’ lawyer said that his client was playing a character. Recently, it was revealed that the Center for Environmental Health was bringing legal action against InfoWars for selling two lead-contaminated products.

I’m not doing a guilt by association thing here, because Tuohy has also done interviews with ESPN, Dan Patrick, and others and he’s done freelance work for outlets like Sports Illustrated. He is right about more things than he is wrong and most people have a reason ($) not to speak ill of sports.

  1. Since the last Thursday night game, the Referees have been at it again. For example, look at the Sunday Night Football game.

The Falcons were lethargic for most of that contest, but three crucial plays allowed the Patriots to build a lead. One questionable call took away a Tom Brady interception. The Pats were able to score a touchdown on that drive. On a Falcons drive, WR Julio Jones was interfered with on two consecutive plays, but no fouls were called.

  1. While the circumstances surrounding the series weren’t entirely clear, it was later revealed that Charles Comiskey, the owner of the White Sox, was a cheapskate. He underpaid his players and they often had to play in dirty uniforms. The game fixing was thus a way for players to revolt against him.

Also, the players swept up in the investigation, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were banned from baseball but they were never convicted. A huge reason for that acquittal was because documents connected to the case “mysteriously” disappeared.

  1. There are rules that govern how teams are to deal with player injuries, in game. One of the newer rules requires teams to take out players who are suspected to have concussions for at least one play.

Have any thoughts on the subject? Time’s yours.

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