It’s not as if the NFL replacement refs don’t mean well, it’s just that they're overmatched. On Saturdays, these guys are used to ruling the roost in games played by Ouchita Baptist, Bloomsburg, and Grand Valley, but it’s not the same as the NFL game.
Imagine that you were a pretty good fifth grade science teacher when the Harvard faculty decided en masse to abandon their lecterns. How well would you do teaching a graduate course in nuclear physics?
To excel as a referee in the NFL, three things are needed, and unfortunately these guys get failing grades on each.
Number 1: It’s really nice if you know the rules—like when to start the play clock, how many timeouts and challenges each team has and which plays can be challenged.
In the Pats-Ravens game last night, Jim Harbaugh asked for a measurement when there was no doubt that the play was far short of a first down. Although his request should have been denied, he used the time to decide whether to challenge the play.
On a Patriots penalty later in the game he tried to have five yards tacked onto the end of the play when the only two legitimate options were to accept or decline. I can imagine him snickering on the sideline, saying to his assistants, “I can’t believe we almost got away with that one.”
Number 2: You have to act quickly and with confidence.
As agonizingly slow as replay always used to seem, the replacement refs have made it worse. In the Broncos-Falcons game last week, it took about six minutes to award the ball to Atlanta, even though a Denver player seemed to have come away with the ball. It’s pretty obvious to the most casual observer that there are more mid-field conferences per game and more reversals of rulings. Games are taking longer to play, largely because of the crews’ errors and indecisiveness.
Number 3: You have to have good judgment, to know what is legal and what is not.
In football, unlike baseball, the referees are asked not only to call the game, but to control it. Football is a game of strength and intimidation. Players are going to try to get away with everything they can to win. And when they smell weakness, violations and violence only escalate.
Ed Reed got called on a violent helmet-to-helmet hit on Deion Branch of the Patriots in the second half, but it wasn’t much worse than his first hit on Julian Edelman earlier in the game. Darrius Hayward-Bey was carted off on a stretcher last night, but no flag was thrown.
The instances of holding downfield by defensive backs and linebackers are too numerous to count. Each Sunday the substitute teachers are showing up in class, and all hell is breaking loose.
The problem is not just that the games are being ruined, but the young men who play the game are having their careers and their health placed in danger.
So, NFL bureaucrats, I don’t know what the standard guys are asking for, but their case only gets stronger with each game, not weaker. Please, sooner than later, bring back Ed Hochuli, Jeff Triplette, and Mike Carey.
I know I’ve spent years screaming at these guys, using words that can’t be repeated in polite company, but given the alternative, I can’t wait for their return.