NFL 2012: Why the NFL Replacement Referees Have to Go
NFL replacement referees are still employed, but games are still being played, fans are still buying jerseys and game tickets and Americans are still watching the games on television.
Because interest in the league hasn't wavered since the referees' lockout began, NFL owners aren't too concerned about the dispute, and the two sides aren't any closer to a deal than they were at the beginning of the season.
However, if the replacement refs continue to make calls like they have in the past few weeks, that could change very quickly, and fans, players and coaches alike will continue to publicly gripe about the replacements until a deal is reached.
Analysts are taking these botched calls and are making them the lead story for each game, rather than the actual outcome, mainly because the calls the officials are making is starting to affect the outcome of games.
Take for example the 49ers game against the Vikings.
In the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, San Francisco was given four timeouts and two extra challenges, mainly due to the fact that the referees were unaware of the actual rules of NFL football, but also because 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was able to push the refs around and got them to make incorrect calls.
Although he had used the team's third and final timeout, Harbaugh was able to challenge a play where Vikings running back Toby Gerhart was called down by contact. The officials allowed Harbaugh to challenge the play, and it was eventually ruled that Gerhart had fumbled the ball and the 49ers had recovered. Because Harbaugh won the "challenge," he also got a timeout back.
San Francisco ended up using that timeout again when the Vikings regained possession, and Gerhart fumbled once again. Harbaugh challenged that it was the 49ers' ball, but he was unsuccessful.
Thankfully, this giant blunder by the replacement refs ended up not affecting the outcome of the game, but it very well could have.
Then, Sunday night came around, and the Sunday Night Football game featuring the Ravens and Patriots turned into a nightmare for the replacement officials.
After Ravens fans were clearly unhappy with a call the referees had made, there were roughly five plays where fans could be heard cheering "B.S." through the NBC broadcast, leading commentators Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels to comment that the NFL was allowing substandard officials to work their games.
Things got even worse at the end of the game, when Patriots head coach Bill Belichick ran after a referee on his way to the locker room to discuss a call that went against Ravens coach John Harbaugh after Harbaugh touched an official on the sideline.
Some fans are blaming the owners, rather than the referees, in this situation, and believe that it's not necessarily the refs' fault because the owners are the ones arguing with the officials, but the replacements signed up for this job, and they need to own up to the fact that most of them aren't cut out to work an NFL game.
Defenders of the replacements are also saying that the regular referees make bad calls, which is completely true, but those bad calls don't happen nearly as often, and when they were wrong, the refs would own up to the calls after the game.
Perhaps most importantly, the regular officials would never allow players and coaches to influence when penalty flags are or aren't thrown.
For example, in Sunday's Cardinals-Eagles game, Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho chased down Eagles quarterback Mike Vick, forcing Vick to throw the ball away on third down. Acho began gesturing and yelling at the ref nearest the sideline, and several seconds after the play has finished, the referee threw a flag for intentional grounding. What's almost worse is that the penalty was for 20 yards and a loss of downs, which is about five yards too long.
That's not necessarily an excuse for Belichick to chase down and pull on a ref, or for Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to run down the field yelling at one, but it's a sign that Roger Goodell and the NFL owners need to step in.
If Goodell truly cares about the integrity of the game and the NFL brand, he will work as hard as possible to make sure the referees sign on the dotted lines and get back to working games as soon as possible.
UPDATE: During the Monday night game, the replacement officials further cemented their inadequacy. After blowing a pass interference call on a previous drive that gave the Seahawks a first down, two officials made one of the most confusing calls in NFL history.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson threw a hail mary into the endzone. The pass appeared to be intercepted by a Packers defender, but Seahawks WR Golden Tate got a hand on the ball. Two officials ran to the spot of the ball. One official ruled the play an interception, while the other ruled a touchdown.
Although the play was reviewed, the officials ruled the play a touchdown, giving the Seahawks the win.
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