Former referee Mike Carey must have thought going into television for CBS would be easy after calling NFL games on the field for 15 years. When a referee gets a call wrong, he gets booed by 70,000 fans at a game, a few million more at home.

Hell, even when he gets a call right, if it goes against the home team, a referee is getting serenaded with dissent. And yet, as stressful as it must have been to call some of the biggest games in the NFL over a decade and a half, Carey couldn’t have known what he was getting himself into when he signed on to be the CBS Sports answer to Fox’s Mike Pereira.

Carey was one of the most highly regarded officials when he left the field, so CBS installing him in the studio, and alongside Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in the booth for bigger games, seemed like the smart thing to do. Pereira proved an invaluable resource for the Fox telecasts, and Carey was tabbed to do the same for CBS.

One thing – Carey wasn’t very good on television when he started. Frankly, he still isn’t.

As anyone who has ever done it knows, it’s utterly nerve-wracking to talk on live TV for the first time, especially in a situation where you are being peddled as an expert. An expert has to be right all the time. An expert on television not only has to be right, but has to sound right too.

From the start, Carey couldn’t get out of his own way, stumbling to explain most calls in the minuscule amount of time he was given to share his expertise. In the context of any NFL replay situation, the play-by-play man sets up the call and the analyst gives his best guess as to whether or not the play was properly officiated on the field. Sometimes those situations are clear-cut. Others are murky, and with a rulebook as thick as an unabridged dictionary, and just about as hard to read and understand, the rules expert has become a crutch for those calling the game in the booth.

Who cares what Simms has to say about a fumbled football when Nantz can throw it to Carey for a referee’s more learned opinion? That’s the man’s job, after all.

And yet, when that opinion doesn’t sound learned, and early on when Carey came off as discombobulated and frazzled with his explanations—akin to a high school senior who knows the answer but sounds like he’s lost because he had fallen asleep at his desk—Carey may very well be right at as high a rate as Pereira, but his utter lack of confidence comes through in almost every call he makes, opening himself up for mockery.

Carey was so rough when he started for CBS that he’s recently gone into overcompensation mode as he’s become more comfortable in the role, ironically opening himself up to even more criticism in the process.

Carey is in a no-win situation, so when he tells those in attendance at the CBS Super Bowl kickoff presser that he thinks he’s doing a good job, it’s easy to pan him. Even if he’s right a lot of the time. From Pro Football Talk:

“I’m happy with how I’ve synced up with New York,” Carey said during a CBS press conference, estimating he thought he was at about “90 percent” on replay review analysis.

“Of course, New York is 100 percent,” he added.

Many think he’s batting far lower than .900, which is part of the reason his CBS bosses came to his defense last week, calling the criticism “hurtful.”

But Carey knows he’s making mistakes from time to time, and that his are magnified.

“There are plays I’d like to have back,” Carey said. “There are days I’d like to have back.”

Carey was rightly lambasted during the AFC title game when he suggested Peyton Manning’s toss to Ronnie Hillman that was ruled a fumble should have been called a forward pass. Sure, the angle was a little off, but even in real time that looked like a backward pass, so much that Hillman giving up on the play was far more boneheaded than Carey’s explanation.

While the CBS production crew didn’t do him many favors during that play—the internet could draw a straight line on the screen faster than someone in the truck could to give him the information that it was, indeed, a lateral—Carey’s defense brings up a very interesting, and somewhat valid question.

Is New York always right?

If Carey had been in the booth for the Dez Bryant catch in Green Bay last season and he said he thought Dez caught the ball, would he have been wrong? It’s not as if Dean Blandino’s guys are always right, regardless of their ruling. So is Carey’s job to try to determine what the correct call should be, or what it will be?

In other words, is Carey brought in to figure out the right call, or is he tasked with telling viewers what call the referee on the field will make?

Is wrong always wrong, or does it just sound wrong when it’s coming from a man who lacks conviction?

In the AFC title game, he was wrong. Other times, he’s been somewhat comically wrong, as Chris Chase at FTW pointed out in November. And yet, just last week Steven Ruiz, also at FTW, looked at Carey’s calls to suggest that maybe—despite popular opinion—he’s not actually wrong most of the time.

Carey was brought into a broadcast 44 times before the ruling of a replay was announced. Four times he did not give an opinion on what the call should be. Of the 40 times he ventured a guess as to what the ref would decide, he was right 36 times, or 90% of the time.

Ruiz put together a spreadsheet to show all the times Carey was asked to make a call, and how often he was right or not.


On this play, for example, Carey said the call should not have been a fumble, yet it was ruled a fumble on the field and upheld via replay. Watching it 100 times and stopping the gif right when the receiver’s elbow hits the turf, from this angle, it’s impossible to see how Carey was wrong.

The other time Carey was wrong, per Ruiz, outside of the ridiculous double possession play with Seattle and Pittsburgh that Chase referenced and the horrible call on the lateral in the AFC title game, was this catch, which was ruled incomplete but changed to a completion upon review. Should that have been a catch? Yes. Does anyone know what a catch is or isn’t? No.

Now, again, none of this means that Carey is good on television. He’s better than when he started, and the more the crew can get him involved in the booth—he struggles much more with his delivery when he’s in a central studio than when he’s stationed with Nantz and Simms—the better he will get. He is by no means what anyone would call good, not even those at CBS who were defending him. They can’t say that. But he is better, and he can continue to get better, especially if he develops more confidence with his explanations, because the calls he’s trying to explain, are usually right.

The problem, then, isn’t the call; it’s the delivery. Pereira is such a natural on television for Fox that Carey looks even worse by comparison. So no, Carey isn’t good on TV and it’s fair to say he might even still be bad. But he’s not wrong—at least not most of the time.

About Dan Levy

Dan Levy has written a lot of words in a lot of places, most recently as the National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. He was host of The Morning B/Reakaway on Sirius XM's Bleacher Report Radio for the past year, and previously worked at Sporting News and Rutgers University, with a concentration on sports, media and public relations.

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