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CA Residency of Officials Who Blew Saints-Rams Call Raises Eyebrows Among NFL Insiders

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In boxing, the tradition of “home cooking,” where a referee and a judging panel hail from the same vicinity as the fighter whom the promoters want to see elevated to a title shot, often ensures that a predetermined outcome can be reached without outright forcing one of the fighters to take a dive.

When it happens, most fans just tacitly accept it, since those who have any connection to the fight scene know that “this is the promoter’s guy, unless he gets beaten nearly to death, he’s winning this fight.”

However, it undermines the credibility of the sport and leaves the average casual fan thinking boxing is a complete joke.

Is the NFL following boxing’s lead?

With Super Bowl TV ratings having peaked in 2015, the conspiracy-minded have reason to think a little home cooking, even for the visiting team, might have helped tilt the NFC championship game in favor of the “promoter’s fighter.”

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That fighter is the Los Angeles Rams, who play in a market substantially bigger and more appealing than that of their Jan. 20 opponent, the New Orleans Saints.

The officiating crew in that NFC title game featured four officials who hail from the Rams’ home turf of Southern California, according to an ESPN report.

The four officials in question were responsible for one of the worst blown calls in NFL history, a pass interference penalty that should have been whistled against the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman that also included a helmet-to-helmet hit blatant enough that the league fined Robey-Coleman after the fact.

The league even minced no words, admitting to the Saints that the referees “f—ed up the call,” sources told ESPN.

Do you believe Vinovich and his crew ignored the pass interference on purpose to help the Rams win?

The Saints organization has been angry over the play, but it isn’t leading the charge alleging the SoCal referees rigged the game in favor of their hometown team. Much like lawyers during jury selection, teams are allowed to raise objections to officiating assignments well in advance of kickoff. Crew assignments are communicated to the teams on the Monday before the game.

The problem comes from still-furious Saints fans, who now can point to a motive for the inexplicable call that likely cost their team a Super Bowl berth.

“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.”

Sources within the league itself understand how this incident could undermine the sport’s credibility.

“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.”

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The league, of course, insists that performance on postgame grades by the league and not the location of the crews’ homes influences which games they get to call on the field, but if one of your meritocratic crews features four guys from in and around LA and the other does not, why not send the California crew to Kansas City for Chiefs-Patriots and let the crew that isn’t all from the city of one of the competing teams do the Rams-Saints game?

The NFL has taken geographic location into consideration before when assigning referees to crews.

Ed Hochuli, widely regarded as one of the best referees ever to call a game, was nonetheless kept away from Arizona Cardinals games because he lives in Phoenix.

Likewise, Mike Carey, a San Diego resident, didn’t do Chargers games during the time before that team moved north up I-5 to Tinseltown.

But just to throw an interesting wrinkle into this, referee Bill Vinovich, who lives in Newport Beach, California, and who is one of the officials under discussion in this controversy, drew howls of protest from Rams fans before the game. They believed Vinovich had it in for their team since the Rams had gone 0-8 in games he officiated since 2012.

Vinovich’s regular-season crew — three of whom are the California guys accused by Saints fans of rigging the NFC title game — did two Rams games this season, both losses, and one of those losses came against the Saints.

In the first Saints game, a 45-35 New Orleans win, Vinovich’s crew was criticized for a spot after a fake field goal that partially contributed to costing the Rams the game.

So if Vinovich and a crew of Golden State residents conspired to hand the Rams a trip to the Super Bowl, it’s one heck of a long con.

And that, ultimately, may consign this story to the “people just need something to talk about during the long two-week wait” scrap heap once Super Bowl LIII kicks off Sunday.

Just don’t tell that to angry Saints fans.

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Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Boston born and raised, Fox has been writing about sports since 2011. He covered ESPN Friday Night Fights shows for The Boxing Tribune before shifting focus and launching Pace and Space, the home of "Smart NBA Talk for Smart NBA Fans", in 2015. He can often be found advocating for various NBA teams to pack up and move to his adopted hometown of Seattle.
Birthplace
Boston, Massachusetts
Education
Bachelor of Science in Accounting from University of Nevada-Reno
Location
Seattle, Washington
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Sports




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