Two of the NFL games I watched Sunday were nearly turned upside by the inexperience and incompetence of replacement officials. Which leads me to say to the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell: Do whatever is necessary to get your trained, veteran refs back on the field before something happens that could set your league back. And if you think I’m over-reacting, you’re wrong.
The Philadelphia-Baltimore game was one of the best of the day. But the refs, who look like deer in the headlights when it comes to controlling one of these games, were awful. They don’t know all the rules, it appears, and are slow to enforce the rules they do now.
The St. Louis-Washington game was fraught with missed calls, confusion and a bunch of screaming from coaches Mike Shanahan (Redskins) and Jeff Fisher (Rams), who couldn’t believe some of the calls – and non-calls – being made. It was a really physical game that got to be too physical because the replacement officials were too slow to lay down the law and react.
Clearly, two weeks into the season, the players and coaches are using their forces of intimidation to get to some of the officials. That stuff doesn’t work with the real guys, who have the power of the NFL to back them. But the replacement officials, everybody knows, are temporary. And in being short-timers, they’re subject to ridicule and harassment that the full-time refs rarely have to deal with.
Put yourself in the shoes of one of the replacement officials. You might be used to working low-key NAIA games or other lower-level college contests. That’s your comfort zone. All of a sudden, because the NFL and its officials can’t agree on a contract, you’ve been thrust into officiating on the field with the best, biggest and baddest football players on the planet.
Some of these guys are beginning to look overwhelmed. The first week went off relatively well, considering. But Week 2 was a mess and it’s only going to get worse.
If Goodell allows this travesty to continue for another week, the NFL will start to lose credibility. It was frustrating and maddening to watch games Sunday, even close games like Philadelphia-Baltmore and St. Louis-Washington. And these are difficult games to officiate. You can’t, as Goodell seems to be saying, just throw a bunch of guys out there in black and white stripes and expect to get a competent, authoritative effort.
Basically, the NFL is willing to increase salaries for the full-time officials but wants to freeze their pensions. The referee’s union representatives are fighting this and most who keep a close eye on the matter believe the fight could go on a while longer. How long is a “while?” Great question, but the best guess seems to be that the replacement officials will be on the field again for Week 3 and that the longer the strike goes, the longer it will take for the real officials to prepare themselves for the rigors and challenges of calling an NFL game.
Essentially, Goodell wants to take back pensions, which is something many workers can relate to. How many reading this actually have pensions? They’re an economic relic for most as the business world has shifted its work force to less-reliable 401k’s and the like.
But whatever the economic realities, it’s important for the full-time NFL officials to get back into the game before the game is compromised too greatly. It was evident during Sunday’s game that the fine line between legitimacy and illegitimacy is being approached. Goodell, who has spoken at such length about the importance of safety, is talking out of both sides of his mouth if he continues to allow the replacement officials to work games.