NFL Replacement Referees: League Must Put an End to Poor Officiating Farce

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2012

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23: Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens argues a call with a replacement referee in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Ravens won, 31-30. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

They've been bullied by players and coaches, failed to interpret or implement the rules correctly and have often lost control of the game. They've allowed dangerous hits to go unpunished and have slowed down the flow of the games immensely, and quite simply, they are in way over their heads.

They are the replacement referees, and for as long as they remain employed, they will continue to chisel away at the NFL's integrity. 

I know what comes next. Hey Tim, I get you're frustrated, but people still tune in and watch. Roger Goodell has no incentive to give the regular officials what they want, because you are still watching.

Trust me, if there was a way I could watch football and support the players and referees without a single cent entering the bank accounts of Goodell and the owners, I would. While the "They don't care!" argument is often presented as the final word in this situation, it simply isn't.

For one, there is the notion of player safety that Goodell pretends to be concerned with while still allowing the replacements to take the field. Where was the penalty on the hit to the head of Darrius Heyward-Bey on Sunday? What happens when one of these minor scuffles turns into an all-out brawl because the replacements didn't know how to quell the situation?

But we're supposed to buy that the commissioner's priority is actually player safety?


What about the integrity of the game? What about the fact that the officiating has often made the most important games of the week—those in prime time watched by a national audience—look closer to farce than football?

There were 24 penalties in last night's game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, and if you watched the game over and over again on repeat, you would be hard-pressed to identify all of them. 

Still, I can deal with bad calls. The regular officials make bad calls. Nobody's perfect.

What I can't accept is when the rules are enforced incorrectly, or when games start lasting closer to four hours rather than three.

There was the extra timeout the Seattle Seahawks were given in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals. Jim Harbaugh was twice given challenges after calling timeouts on Sunday, which shouldn't have been allowed. On more than one occasion, the replacements have incorrectly marked off yardage lost or gained after awarding penalties.

It's gotten to the point that the NFL Players Association has sent an open letter to the NFL asking for the regular referees to be reinstated. From

The letter, posted Sunday on the union's website, said that a lack of a safe working environment exists because of the replacement officials.

"Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity," the NFL Players Association wrote.

I get that the owners and Goodell don't want to seem like they can be pushed around in negotiations due to pressure from fans, players and the media, I really do.

They think it would make them look weak at the negotiation table.

But it wouldn't. It would make them look smart for realizing that the regular referees are vital to the quality of the product they sell, and making a few concessions won't be the end of the world. They won't look like pushovers; they'll look like men who care about the game of football.

We won't hold the first three weeks against the league. Business is business. But if this absurdity with the replacement referees continues much longer, you can bet fans will hold the league responsible. 

We won't forget. We'll scoff every time Goodell talks about player safety like it actually matters to him. We'll always keep close the notion that the integrity of the game only matters to the owners and league office when it financially benefits them.

Yes, they are the replacement referees.

While they may just be men on a field making poor calls or mucking up the rules, it turns out they are far more symbolic than that. Perhaps when the league acknowledges that fact, we may get the real refs back.


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