Some Wonder How the NFL Allowed Four Officials Who Live in Southern California to Officiate NFC Championship Game

In the latest twist to the still-simmering controversy from last Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, there is some concern in league circles about the NFL’s judgment in allowing four game officials who live in Southern California to work the game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints, league sources told ESPN.

Those same four officials — all with long ties to Southern California — were the ones most responsible for the non-call on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman’s early, helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis that was widely viewed as pass interference. The league admitted to the Saints that it “f—ed up the call,” according to sources.

The Saints and other officials not involved in the game do not believe that these officials’ geographical ties influenced their non-call, according to sources. Officiating assignments are communicated to clubs on Monday, and there were no complaints from either the Rams or Saints in advance, according to a league source.

But in a league constantly trying to safeguard the integrity of the game, there are some privately wondering how four officials with Southern California roots wound up officiating a conference championship game that involved a Los Angeles team.

There is a perception of bias that the league either ignored or was blind to when it assigned this crew to this game. It ultimately could wind up influencing officiating assignments in the future, according to a league source, to make sure a scenario like this does not happen again.

“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 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.”

Referee Bill Vinovich, who led the game’s officiating crew, lives in Newport Beach, California. Down judge Patrick Turner, whose primary responsibility was to follow Lewis on the blown call from start to finish, lives in Lakewood, California, in Los Angeles County.

Side judge Gary Cavaletto, whose job was to initially watch outside receiver Dan Arnold before shifting his focus once the ball was thrown to Lewis, lives in Santa Barbara, California. Back judge Todd Prukop, who was stationed in the end zone as an extra set of eyes on the controversial play, lives in Mission Viejo, California.

The Saints declined comment when contacted by ESPN, but others did not.

“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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SOURCE: ESPN, Adam Schefter