There is a whole lot of grey area with this question, but to be fair to the reader I need to introduce myself. I officiate two sports at the high school level. During the winter months I referee both boys and girls basketball (with the hopes of one day moving up the officiating ladder) and in the spring I ump baseball. So while fans are generally biased against refs, you might consider me slightly biased for them.
The question, however, has not been answered. Is it fair to blame an official for a loss? The answer is no. No it is not (there might be exceptions, but in general this is the rule). Blaming an official for a loss is a displacement mechanism for fans. Officials are easy targets because they have no outlet to the media. Players can talk and place blame elsewhere, or even accept blame but no one ever listens to an officials press conference unless a mistake was made. Even if they accept all of the blame there is still national outrage. Jim Joyce is the perfect example. You can believe what you will, but there is no one who feels worse after a blown call than the official that made it. Joyce was in tears apologizing after he cost Armando Galarraga, and the Detroit Tigers, a perfect game in the 9th inning. Joyce was a major league umpire for over 20 years and I had never heard of him before this incident. That’s how good an umpire he is. Officials only become noticed after a mistake has been made. Joyce accepted blame, but still there were death threats wished against him.
‘Wait wait wait, you’ve made some good points but you are wrong. Those three refs cost Rutgers the game against St. John’s last year in the Big East Tournament!’ Ahh loyal reader, I thought you might bring that up. I will not defend Tim Higgins or Jim Burr’s performance in the last 5 seconds of that game; however, to say that they cost Rutgers the game in their 65-63 loss is incredibly shortsighted. Rutgers would have had to convert their final possession with 3 seconds left. No small task. Additionally Rutgers should have never been in that place. If you are going to blame the refs, you also must put equal if not more blame on the Scarlet Knights. Their three starting guards shot a combined 10-28 from the field. As a team they shot only 36% from the field and committed 14 turnovers. Convert on any of those missed opportunities and they win the game. The refs, however, become an easy target for blame because of their last second mistake. Yes they made a mistake, but to blame them entirely for a loss is arrogant.
Now there are some examples that I have missed and do not have the time or space to cover. Yes occasionally officials make a mistake that directly influence the end of the game (Phillies-Marlins last year in which a foul ball that was called fair led to a Phillies win), but 99 times out of 100 those examples lead back to my previous argument. If the Marlins hit better with men in scoring position they would have won that game. While most fans I believe recognize the pressure that surrounds officials and will be upset at a call, but generally will move on there is definately a noticable base of sports fans that cling to mistakes officials make. At the end of the day those fanse will continue to blame officiating for all their teams woes and if that helps them sleep at night after a defeat, don’t let statistics get in the way of a good argument.