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49ers loss shows need for better officiating tools

Something on Sunday had 49ers fans stewing.

Not Richard Sherman’s constant barrage of narcissism. Not the rumors of noise being piped into CenturyLink Field.

It was the inconsistent officiating. Sometimes blatant penalties being overlooked while San Francisco was flagged for ticky-tack plays.

Whether it be a non-call after facemask-to-facemask contact with 49ers running back LaMichael James – when he had signaled fair catch and hadn’t yet touched the ball – or a clear fumble recovery by Navarro Bowman, new NFL rules are calling for new officiating tools.

It’s not a new suggestion, that more officiating could come from above to get calls right. But the NFL has fought it for years.

Officiating crews are tasked with keeping up with 22 professional athletes who are usually under 30 years old and can run so fast that they could be given speeding tickets in residential neighborhoods – while jogging.

Meanwhile, referees are all older men, often tired and overworked, and expected to make split-second reads with their blood pumping and their lungs struggling to keep up.

It’s not always fair to blame them for missing something. In fact, it’s downright irrational.

But the league needs to do something if they have any interest in the integrity of the game. It wasn’t until 1983, when the USFL became a threat to the financial element of the NFL, that the league took the cue of a coach’s replay challenge.

Many considered throwing red cloth from the sidelines to be silly. That was until the effectiveness of the rule was showcased and fans were attending the competition’s games at an average of 25,000 strong.

30 years later, the number of officials remains the same, as does the essentials of officiating. Never mind the advances in technology, where a two-man booth can determine whether a hit was avoidable or not with the help of computers in milliseconds.

Same thing goes for malicious hits, like the one on LaMichael James, which removed him from the contest momentarily.

By the third quarter of Sunday’s game, things had become so bad that when Bowman had recovered a fumble at the goal line and an official was just a few yards away, Seattle somehow maintained possession. Worse, the play was not challengeable by current rules.

Sure, the NFL doesn’t want the game taken over by technology. I get it. Officials are a classic element of sports.

But if they possess the money and technological know-how to get a call right, and don’t, then why do we watch?

Follow @SFBay and @JLeskiwNFL on Twitter and at for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.

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