What concerns Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti most about the NFL is at the top of many fans' complaint lists too.
But Bisciotti isn't blaming the refs, or venting about them. He believes they're in a tough position, and he's trying to help.
"I kind of think [referees] get a bad rap," Bisciotti said Wednesday. "But, I think we can get that better. I think the new rules have made it ridiculously hard on these guys."
The league has cracked down on violent hits, especially those with or to the helmet, in an effort to make the game safer for players and prevent concussions. The NFL has instructed referees to vigilantly enforce those rules.
But considering the speed of the game, it's difficult for referees to differentiate what is a helmet shot and what is a clean hit. And since unnecessary roughness or personal foul penalties are for 15 yards, they can have a huge impact on the results of games.
Bisciotti, Head Coach John Harbaugh and Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick talked with each other about that very issue before their Week 16 game.
"Trying to make these refs in a split second understand what is a helmet-to-helmet hit in and of itself is impossible, because you see heads snap back, and other times you realize that it was the shoulder to the shoulder, and they still get a flag," Bisciotti said.
Bisciotti's solution is to make such penalties not only reviewable (which they currently are not), but he also believes that all reviews should be done by somebody not in the stadium. He has heard talk of the NFL adopting a plan similar to that used by the NHL that would empower somebody in New York to review plays and make determinations.
"We've gotten better with the 10 camera angles, and we've gotten better with the HD, and we've got novice fans that can see that a referee is wrong," Bisciotti said.
Putting review decisions in the hands of an offsite, nonpartisan party makes sense on a few different levels. They would get the same look on television, or perhaps even better, away from the stadium. They would also see it much faster and thus make a ruling quicker to speed up the game.
"I think it takes almost three minutes, even though they're only allowed under the hood for one minute, by the time the ref goes over and talks to the guy, and he throws his flag, and then he walks over, and he's on the headset, and he looks at all the different replays," Bisciotti said. "I think we can expedite that process and make it better."
By speeding up the process, Bisciotti feels like the NFL could even consider giving coaches another challenge. They currently have two for the entire game, and can earn a third if they are correct on the previous two.
"I think having to decide whether you want to use a challenge in the first quarter, it's hard for a coach, because he's thinking, 'I think we see it, we might have a chance at it, but I can't afford to give that challenge up,'" Bisciotti said.
The Ravens owner also feels it may be easier for a nonpartisan official to overrule a referee than a referee to overrule someone on his own crew. Referees are graded on their performances, and overruling somebody on your own crew could hurt your crew's grade.
Only problem is Bisciotti isn't a decision maker when it comes to such NFL rules. General Manager Ozzie Newsome is on the league's competition committee, however, and the idea could come up for discussion in March.
"That, to me – if I was in charge – I would be heading there full-speed ahead, and I really think the league is at least heading in that direction. If I can kick their [butts] a little bit faster, I certainly will," Bisciotti said with a laugh, nudging Newsome.
"I really think that we need to make it fairer for the refs – not easier for the refs, but just fairer for the refs – because I think that we can all conclude that we still have the best refs out there."