As the mistakes mount and the regular season draws closer, eyes around the NFL are beginning to zero in on the replacement officials. Some have seen the league’s Plan B up-close-and-personal, and came away less than impressed.
“I noticed even for the first preseason game (against the Steelers) there were a lot of missed calls that I was making that they were missing,” said one of the Eagles defensive starters. “If they are going to be in there they have to be able to perform at the level that we need them to so that everyone is safe and everyone is having a fair game. Without it, it can determine a win or a loss if the refs aren’t seeing the right things.”
There is a very real possibility that the regular season will begin with replacement referees officiating the games. A recent report suggests the lockout could linger for nearly a quarter of the season.
At issue is, of course, money. The NFL is reportedly proposing a 5-11 percent increase in salaries, but the referees union is pushing for more. The league also wants to add more refs to the pool, while freezing the current pension plan in favor of a 401K.
A dangerous line is being toed. The NFL’s reputation can be damaged if the outcomes of meaningful games are altered because of poor officiating. Not to mention the health concerns. Roger Goodell wants to be known as a commissioner that champions player safety, but using replacement refs would arguably put the players at greater risk of injury.
“If you wiped out the NFL and brought in a bunch of rookies or guys that didn’t have a lot of NFL experience, you’re going to get a completely different product,” said another Eagles player who requested to remain anonymous. “They are what help maintain the integrity of the game and the safety of the game, and for the NFL to sacrifice those two things over what amounts to probably just a money issue, I don’t think is right. A blown call in a Week 1 game could be the tipping point when it comes to Week 17 and the team is trying to make the playoffs.”
ESPN’s Ashley Fox detailed the various missteps by the replacement refs to date in a recent column:
Thus far, the replacement officials have been a joke. The referee for the Hall of Fame game between New Orleans and Arizona flubbed the coin toss, announcing that the Saints had won the toss and elected to defer when the Cardinals had actually won it. That same referee, Craig Ochoa, twice referred to Atlanta as Arizona in the Falcons’ opener against Baltimore. His voice was noticeably shaky.
The referee for the Monday night game between Dallas and Oakland had trouble operating his microphone. Another screwed up another coin flip. There have been missed spots, a messed up 10-second runoff, missed calls and no calls. In the New York Giants opener against Jacksonville, Giants punt returner Jayron Hosley was called for holding while returning a punt. A back judge for the Buffalo-Washington game called a touchback on a punt downed at the 4-yard line.
Giants receiver Victor Cruz called the Hosley ruling “mind-boggling.”
“I’m a little concerned because we want to make sure we’re getting the best referees we can. I actually overheard one of the refs saying he only refereed glorified high school games, which I don’t even know what that means.”
Coaches like Andy Reid are in a difficult spot. Pro Football Talk published a copy of what it says is a memo from the NFL offices to team executives that asks personnel not to discuss the lockout publicly, and provides talking points should they be asked about it. This is the recommended response:
Our focus is on preparing our team for the coming season. We don’t worry about things we can’t control.
We will play by the same rules and we are confident that the official will know the rules and do their jobs.
This is what Reid had to say when Birds 24/7 asked him about the lockout Saturday.
“They’re busting their tail to get caught up on the speed of our game and so on,” said Reid. “They came up and visited us [at training camp.] I can just tell you that they are trying their hearts out.”
Probably, but effort is not the issue. It’s ability.
“Are they knowledgeable and experienced enough to make the correct calls?” said one Eagle. “With (injury concerns) as a point of emphasis for them, it might influence them to make too many of those calls or make those calls at the wrong time. It could go either way.
“The NFL has to know, I think the public has seen it, everybody has seen it, these crews just aren’t up to par.”