The NFL Survival Guide for Regular Season Replacement Refs
The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants open up the 2012 NFL regular season just seven days from today, and barring an unforeseen change of heart on either side of the negotiating table, the game will be run by replacement officials.
Some, including NFL players and coaches, can't seem to bear the thought of backup refs officiating real games. Others won't even notice the difference.
The truth of the matter probably lies somewhere in between.
The replacement refs have certainly had head-scratching moments during the preseason, however.
The Buffalo Bills had to use a challenge flag on a punt clearly downed inside the five-yard line that a replacement official called a touchback. In Minnesota, San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner had to use two challenge flags to overturn a clear fumble and interception that were called down by contact and incomplete, respectively.
There have been blatantly wrong decisions on pass interference, roughing the passer and intentional grounding, even if these are considered judgement calls.
NFL players have been very open in calling out the new men and women wearing the officiating stripes.
Vikings punter Chris Kluwe called the replacement refs "horrible" and "kind of embarrassing."
In an interview with USA Today, Packers cornerback Charles Woodson continued the bashing:
They haven’t been very good. That’s the honest opinion. Before preseason started, I think you’re optimistic. But it’s almost like a young guy coming into the NFL. The game goes too fast for them...Now, could they go through a season and get better? Sure. But there’s going to be a lot of bad officiating going on until they catch up to the speed of the game.
Woodson went on to say that players will get away with things now that they didn't with the original group of officials.
The most telling quote from Woodson on the original set of refs?
"Whether you liked their calls or didn't agree with their calls, you always knew that they're good at what they do," he said.
But whether you agree with Woodson, the chances of replacement officials doing regular-season games is growing every day that passes without a new deal for the old refs.
Are you nervous about replacement referees working NFL regular season games in 2012?
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has maintained throughout the process that having replacement refs do regular-season games was in the cards. He also said that the old set of refs would probably need a week to 10 days to get ready for the regular season, according to The Washington Post.
We're currently seven days out from the opener and 11 away from opening Sunday (Sept. 9). Nothing about a deal being closed has been reported.
If replacement refs do work regular-season games, here's a couple of things to keep in mind to survive what will be a tense period for the NFL and its fans:
- Experience will only make these replacement refs better. As Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports wrote here, being an NFL ref does not require any special talent or unique ability. Experience at the NFL level is the key attribute for the regular refs. These new officials are still adjusting to the speed of the professional game, but the worst of things is probably in the rearview mirror. It will get better before anything gets worse.
- Coaches and players have complained about officiating since the birth of sport. It's only natural, whether the officials are the same old faces or replacement ones. There is simply more focus on this set of officials now. There have been egregious calls in the preseason, but if you put any sport's officials in the spotlight that these refs are currently working under, you'll find bad calls.
- Officiating is an imperfect science, complete with human-judgement errors and mistakes. That can't be stressed enough. Anyone is prone to a mistake.
- Some plays will be completely judgement calls for these officials, and others will have the safeguard of instant replay. That's important to remember. Some have said that one play or one call can change the course of an NFL team's season. Well, that's why coaches have a red flag in their pocket and the instant-replay booth takes a look at both scoring plays and turnovers. The number of game-changing plays that won't have a second pair of eyes looking at them will be small.
- Refs do not decide football games. Coaches preach this all the time, even when they are spouting off to the media about a poor call. Players ultimately hold the balance of games in their own hands.
Overall, it is easy to understand the hostility of the situation.
Good, experienced NFL officials were so easily overlooked in the past. It was easy to pile on about Ed Hochuli's rants or the way Mike Carey signaled a first down. But these men were really, really good at their jobs.
Now, a replacement set has struggled in the limelight.
But everyone must keep in mind that the replacement refs are temporary, they'll get better with time and there are safeguards in place to protect the integrity of the game.
Breathe easy—replacement refs will not be the end of the 2012 NFL season.
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