NFL's Defense of Replacement Referees Misses the Mark

Ben ChodosCorrespondent IISeptember 17, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 16:  A referee looks down during the game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans  at EverBank Field on September 16, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The NFL has released a statement in defense of the replacement officials’ performances in Week 2 in a misguided attempt to defend itself if the face of growing criticism. 

The league said the following, via Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith

Officiating is never perfect. The current officials have made great strides and are performing admirably under unprecedented scrutiny and great pressure. As we do every season, we will work to improve officiating and are confident that the game officials will show continued improvement.

After Week 1, this statement may not have been met with sneers from football fans. As Chase Stuart of the New York Times’ Fifth Down Blog notes, there were 208 penalties called in Week 1 on average in the past 10 years, while there were 206 flags thrown in the opening round of games this season. 

Stuart does point out that the replacement refs did throw significantly more pass interference penalties, and that there were two glaring errors that have a received a significant amount of attention. The Green Bay Packers’ Randall Cobb was allowed to score a touchdown on a punt return despite a blatant block in the back, and the Seattle Seahawks ended up with four timeouts against the Arizona Cardinals.

This week, though, a bad omen broke even before Sunday’s games started. As USA Today’s Chris Chase notes, an official was taken off duty for the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers because his Facebook revealed that he was a Saints fan.

There were significantly more errors in Week 2 than in Week 1. However, the refs do not deserve to be criticized for blown calls but rather for not being completely familiar with the rules and procedures of NFL gameplay.

An example of a blatantly terrible call came this week when the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ike Taylor was called for pass interference against the New York Jets. The video below shows that there clearly was no such infraction.

Of course, regular officials miss pass interference calls regularly, and there have been countless examples of appalling calls by refs who are currently striking in the past.

But Mike Pereira of Fox Sports notes that there were several errors that arose from the refs simply not knowing the rules. Firstly, the clock continued to run for 29 seconds when the Cincinnati Bengals’ Andy Dalton threw an incomplete pass is his team’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

Pereira also points out that St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher should have been penalized for challenging a play that was ruled a fumble. While Rams’ running back Steven Jackson was down before letting go of the ball, Pereira notes that turnover reviews must come from the replay official.

In addition, Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press notes (via Yahoo Sports) says that Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck was mistakenly informed that an offside penalty against the Minnesota Vikings would not stop the clock, causing Luck to waste a play with a spike.

The NFL’s statement suggests that the league does not recognize that there has been abnormally poor officiating. Professional referees do miss calls all the time, and it is certainly possible that the refs currently on strike would have made the same calls in some of the plays being scrutinized.

But the previously mentioned instances are mistakes that arose from the officiating crew not knowing the rules and procedures. This is simply unacceptable and should have been recognized by the NFL.

Refusing to acknowledge that the replacement officials are not performing up to par makes the NFL appear to care more about its negotiating position with the referees than the fans.

When the people entrusted with enforcing the rules do not know them, the integrity of the game is compromised and spectators are presented with an inferior product. Week 2 featured a significant step backwards for the replacement officials, and the NFL is pretending not to notice.

With no end in sight for the referee’s lockout, the NFL must recognize that the officiating is a problem. Whether the league has to cave on certain issues to end the lockout or simply institute more training sessions and harsher reviews for replacement officials, there must be changes going forward. 

The Week 2 performance from the officials and the NFL's response were both completely inadequate.