NFL Officiing… Why the disparity? – Sports Illustrated Las Vegas Raiders news, analysis and more

There are 17 teams of NFL referees with the same eyes on the same players playing the same games in the same stadiums for the same 18 weeks every season.

But how come they view games so differently?

Allow me to highlight two crews, those of Carl Cheffers and Bill Vinovich.

Vinovich became an NFL referee in 2004, but suffered a health issue and didn’t return to full-time duties as a team manager until 2013. Cheffers has been an NFL referee since 2008.

Cheffers has a high penalty crew and Vinovich has a low penalty crew. And the difference between the two is stark.

Since 2013, the Cheffers team has finished first among the NFL’s 17 referee teams in shots on goal twice – and leads again in 2021. They finished second in shots on goal twice more and third Once. This crew also finished seventh in penalties once and ninth twice. During the same nine-season streak, Vinovich’s team never finished above 12th in the league on penalties. This crew has finished last in penalties twice and ranks bottom again in 2021.

Vinovich’s team has issued 128 penalties for 1,076 yards this season. Cheffers’ crew issued 202 penalties for 1,709 yards. How is it possible that there is a difference of 74 penalties between the two crews? How is it that a crew can inflict 600 more yards of penalties than another crew? That’s walking six full football pitches.

When Cheffers showed up at NFL stadiums this season, his team averaged 14.4 penalties for 122.1 yards per game. When Vinovich showed up, his crew averaged 9.8 penalties for 82.7 yards. Again, how and why the disparity? The NFL’s 17-team average is 12.3 penalties for 106.6 yards per game.

Cheffers gave home teams 106 penalties for 888 yards alone this season. It bears repeating that Vinovich only charged 128 penalties for 1,076 yards on both teams in their games this season.

After finishing second in the NFL in shots on goal in 2020, Cheffers was rewarded with the coveted Super Bowl assignment as a referee for the game between the Chiefs and Buccaneers. Even with a ““all-star” refereeing crew, we got what we expected – penalty flags.

The Chiefs received 11 penalties for 120 yards and there were 15 penalties combined for 159 yards in the game. Kansas City took a Super Bowl-record eight penalties for 95 yards in the first half alone, helping pave the way for an insurmountable 21-6 lead at Tampa Bay.

On the other hand, Vinovich’s team worked the 2018 NFC title game between the Rams and Saints when there was no penalty flag on late and obvious pass interference that cost in New Orleans a trip to the Super Bowl.

Vinovich’s crew will let the calls go. The Cheffers crew won’t. It’s officer in the extreme in both cases.

Cheffers has issued at least 200 penalties in each of the past eight seasons, including 2021. No other crew has more than a current one-season streak of 200 penalties. The most penalties a Vinovich crew has ever given in a season was 188 in 2014 – and still finished 12th among 17 penalty crews that season. Incidentally, the Cheffers crew led the way that year with 237 penalties.

These two crews are the outliers in 2021. The Cheffers crew imposed 13 more penalties than the next crew (Shawn Hochuli). Vinovich’s crew imposed 16 fewer penalties than the lowest crew (Ron Torbert). That said, there’s still a 45-penalty, 369-yard gap between the Hochuli and Torbert crews.

I’ve been officiating since 2002 and it remains a mystery to me why teams watching the same players on the same pitches play the same games on the same days can view them so differently. There needs to be more consistency in calls, but the NFL doesn’t seem to know how to achieve that. And it hurts the game.


Rick Gosselin covered the NFL for 49 years for United Press International, the Kansas City Star and the Dallas Morning News. He covered the Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys. He was a Hall of Fame voter for 26 years and in 2004 won the Bill Nunn Award for “long and distinguished reporting on professional football”.

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