NFL Replacement Refs Are Awful, but They're Not the Real Problem

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer ISeptember 26, 2012

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Wide receiver Golden Tate #81 of the Seattle Seahawks makes a catch in the end zone to defeat the Green Bay Packers on a controversial call by the officials at CenturyLink Field on September 24, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

The NFL replacement referees have gone from bad to putrid to someone-open-a-window-or-I'll-vomit.

I originally intended to make the argument that the furor over the replacement officials was largely a media-driven farce.

But then the Monday night game happened and the Green Bay Packers were left wondering who had their kidney.

Like anyone remotely familiar with American football except, apparently, the rent-a-ref making the call, I saw the ending of the Packers' game against the Seattle Seahawks as a sham. I saw the head-shaking theft of a righteous victory from the Pack.

The final play was a clear interception by Packers' safety M.D. Jennings and an even more blatant pass interference flag on Seahawks' wide receiver Golden Tate.

Keep in mind I'm in the pro-defense camp so I don't mind a little contact downfield, but that was absurd. More so than the INT, how do you miss a two-handed shove to the back of a defender in plain view on the edge of the scrum?


Until that play, you could make the argument that the officiating in 2012 had been worse than usual, but not so substantively bad that it warranted the fuss being made by players, coaches and the media. The normal referees aren't perfect and these scabs are not even the next level down from the regulars—as I understand it, they're mostly D-III people i.e. not even the best college has to offer.

So it stands to reason that the quality would be sub-standard.

Of course, that argument flew right out the window with Green Bay's win and common sense.

Real officials have certainly snatched victory away from a deserving team at some point in the history of the NFL. However, the frequency with which the replacement refs are making errors and the precipitous decline in the quality from one week to the next move the matter beyond debate.

At this rate, the stand-ins are going to be blowing games every week. Maybe more than one.

That said, the situation still is not as simple as the aforementioned uproar suggests.

The answer to the NFL's nightmare is not for commissioner Roger Goodell and company to roll over for the locked-out officials.

As Bleacher Report's NFL guru Mike Schottey outlines, money is certainly part of the equation, as it always is, but there is also a hidden little gem in the stalled negotiations between the league and the zebras—the regular officials are resisting performance-based assignments and a gradual move toward full-time refs.

Do you see the irony here?

The normal refs are trying to use the atrocious rent-a-refs against the league to ensure they, themselves, can be awful and still control the situation (granted, the normal refs are rarely awful, but the point remains).

Not to mention the fact that they're complaining about compensation from a part-time job that pays six figures.

Anyone out there have a full-time job that pays at least $100,000? If so, does that job involve participating in a nationally televised game? Yeah, seems like a pretty sweet gig from where I sit and my job ain't too bad.

Yet the real officials are trying to play the victim and everyone's eating it up with a spoon.

Check out how many whacks at the pinata du jour ESPN has taken by itself and that doesn't count Grantland's contribution. To its credit, Ashley Fox finally got around to pointing out the locked-out officials deserve some blame, but only a little and only after doing her part to make sure the horse was dead.

The four-letter network shouldn't be singled out.

Everyone—and I do mean everyone—is going nuts over the topic. The subject even has the inglorious distinction of allowing "OMG" to work its way into a New York Times headline. The outpouring has been exhausting, but very few are redirecting the outrage to where it belongs: at the regular officials and, to a lesser degree, at the players/coaches.

I get that Goodell is an unpopular figure amongst the players and fans.

I understand that, especially in the wake of his dictatorial stance while overseeing the New Orleans Saints' bounty debacle and the 2011 lockout, people want to see him take a fall. His iron-fisted rule over player conduct and safety has been totally necessary, but wildly unpopular and somewhat hypocritical. So I understand that a lot of the guys tweeting their indignation want to see Goodell with egg on his face in any way, shape or form.

The commish makes an easy target, there's a frenzied mob already mobilized, we've got plenty of large-caliber ammunition and, thus far, it's been "fire away!"

But it's counterproductive.

As has been pointed out by countless others, the NFL isn't losing money on this deal.

There certainly is a point down the road where bogus, game-changing calls will start taking money from the League's almost-bottomless pockets, but I'm guess it's waaaaaay down that road.

Consequently, everyone can keep hammering away at Goodell in 140 characters or through longer prose, but it's not going to make a bit of difference if television and attendance numbers stay up. And they will as long as the gents in pads keep playing.

So while the weekly woe-is-me-the-shield-must-be-protected hand-wringing is fun and all—this is still a league that suspends substance abusers four games, right?—if a solution is the end goal here, two things need to happen.

First, the players and coaches need to be held accountable instead of granted a free pass.

I think it was the NFL Network's Mike Mayock during the New York Giants vs. Carolina Panthers telecast who compared the rent-a-refs to substitute teachers, which is a perfect comparison because the players and coaches are definitely exploiting the perceived lack of authority. Of course, that also means the players and coaches are acting like children.

Which does nothing to alter the perfection of the comparison.

Again, the scabs have been awful and football is an emotional game, but that doesn't excuse the cheap-shotting and extracurricular affairs that are becoming more and more common. Yes, it would be nice if the replacement officials got control of the situation and put an end to it, rendering the discussion moot.

But it would be nicer if the players and coaches would quit exploiting the situation, then complaining about it as if the principle of self control didn't exist.

These are adults, are they not? Grown men of at least 20 years of age?

At this point, the "surprise" is over—we know the current refs stink and will continue to stink.

Make your peace with it, quit complaining about how the calls are tarnishing the game—or make the same hew and cry when players are getting arrested left, right and center—realize there is a larger issue at stake and try to make the crappy refs' jobs easier instead of harder.

The rent-a-refs are embarrassing, but they aren't the bad guys.

Second, start hammering on the actual culprits instead of taking the low-hanging Goodell fruit.

Although it seems the pension v. 401K is the biggest sticking point, the economic issues are ludicrous because the NFL is a license to print money. The refs are overpaid? Join the club.

Instead, the increased/improved oversight should be a hill to die on for the NFL—the front office brass, players and coaches alike.

Some have cast the dispute in a larger political light and they're right. It's a battle we've seen play out nationally with the banks and locally here in California with the teacher's union. Namely, it's the reluctance of one group to succumb to increased oversight by a non-member.

Both the banks and the teachers have been successful thus far to wondrous results—the grotesque, that is, Wall Street, speaks to the former and the thriving Golden State school system speaks to the latter.

The discussion evidences another political plague that's sweeping the nation—clamoring for an immediate solution to a short-term problem even if it makes a long-term issue infinitely worse.

Because if officiating is the end-all-be-all of protecting the NFL's integrity as this little episode would seem to imply, then making sure the regular officials are as good as they can be should be at the front of everyone's agenda.

Even if it means Goodell gets to win. Again.


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