NFL Replacement Referees: Upon Further Review, This Has to Stop

Jamal CollierAnalyst IIISeptember 25, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell participates in a news briefing after his meeting with U.S. Senate Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) June 20, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Goodell was on the Hill to discuss bounties in professional sports.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images

How ironic is it that the team that had a win intercepted from it by replacement NFL referees is the only one that is owned by the people?

An NFL team only has 16 opportunities to win a game in a season.

The Green Bay Packers will only have 15 in 2012.

The NFL has been playing with fire for the last seven weeks. Leaving its players at the mercy of replacement referees in the wake of an impasse with the NFL Referees Association during the preseason was one thing.

Nobody in the public cares about the results of those games, as long as the players within them make it out as healthy as possible.

For three weeks in the regular season, however, the viewing public has been subjected to many negative presentation elements within an NFL broadcast.

Constant discussion about the situation between the referees and the league diverted attention from the actual games at hand.

Games are lasting longer than they used to as the replacements take their time to make correct calls…most of the time.

I don’t blame the referees for the Week 3 debacle in Seattle on Monday Night Football. NFL football is an intricate game, despite all of its apparent violence. The rules on that level are different from those in other leagues of play.

That’s exactly where these replacement referees came from: different leagues.

That’s what we did expect as fans, but more importantly, that’s what the NFL should have expected.

Watching broadcast games on television, the average fan can learn that the NFL has some measure of league-affiliated assistance for the new crews.

But that wasn’t enough.

On the improper enforcement of a rule that will now be infamous, replacement referees ruled the Seahawks’ Golden Tate as having caught a game-winning touchdown from Russell Wilson.

The preceding offensive pass interference, a two-handed shove by Tate, was ignored.

The fact that the Packers’ M.D. Jennings had sole possession of the football in the end zone before Tate eventually ripped it away from him was overlooked…by one end zone official.

One referee signaled a touchback while the other signaled a touchdown in an iconic snapshot of what the league has become in recent weeks: a circus.

I cannot remember a game that I watched this season that did not include a skirmish of some kind between players that lasted much longer than it should have.

This is about more than Ed Hochuli’s biceps. But his crews wouldn’t let guys fight among one another every other play for minutes at a time.

The replacement referees have been intimidated (and, in some cases, star-struck) by players and coaches. Expecting them to jump in the middle of a brawl between professional football players just doesn’t make sense.

On the Monday Night Football post-game show in Week 2, ESPN NFL analyst Steve Young lamented the situation with the officiating. He mentioned that the league holds a position of power despite the anxiety surrounding the replacement referees’ ability to change an NFL game.

That is because there is inelastic demand for the game of football in America.

What that means, in simple economic terms, is that the difference in officiating will not keep people from watching an NFL broadcast. It won’t keep sponsors from advertising with the league.

It won’t keep people out of the stadium.

And, right now, he’s absolutely correct.

There is only one way that general attraction to the NFL will diminish: the public must lose all sense of what to expect from a game in terms of consistency with officiating and, by extension, outcomes of the game.

To see wins called losses (and losses called wins) will eventually cultivate a feeling of futility from fans if this impasse is allowed to continue.

The damage that this issue is doing can make it to the wallets of people who profit from the NFL.

The league has taken a calculated risk that it will cost significantly less than whatever the asking price of the regular officials is.

Until the league begins to lose financial support from sponsors or fans as a result of the declining quality of its product, that risk will be completely justified.