There has been a lot of anger thrown around in the last two months, and the level has only escalated, over the issue of replacement referees in the NFL this season.
In the world of sports, some people are the dogs and some are the fire hydrants. Most spend some time on both sides of that relationship throughout their careers. The one position in all of sports that spends all the time on the wrong end of that equation is the referee. Nobody ever likes them. The second you see a referee’s name on the Sportscenter ticker, you know it’s because he has screwed something up.
This might be the first time in the history of sports that the media is going out of their way to paint a rosy picture of the referees. It doesn’t seem to matter what happens during the course of a game, any remotely controversial call, shoving match, or delay is blamed on the refs.
The analogy that I keep hearing over and over on sports talk radio is that the replacement refs (I refuse to use the term scab) are the NFL’s equivalent to substitute teachers in that no one respects them, and the players can get away with murder while they’re at the wheel.
The reason why this analogy is invalid is that the replacement refs have the same power and authority as their union counterparts. Their flags still result in penalty yardage. They can still eject players if need be. Most of all, the standings are still going to count at the end of the year. There will not be any asterisks next to these games saying ‘replacement ref game’. The NFL counted the three weeks’ worth of replacement player games in 1987, and those replacement players (with few exceptions) had no connections to those rosters once the strike ended. When schoolchildren have a substitute for the day, basically the kids know that the teacher has no authority as far as discipline goes. If a player gets flagged or thrown out, the penalty still sticks just as if it were dispensed by one of the regular refs.
At the end of the first quarter of the Monday Night game between the Falcons and the Broncos, the announcers just about lost their minds saying that the refs had lost complete control of the game because of a shoving match at the end of the first quarter after the Broncos’ fourth turnover of the day. That shoving match would have happened regardless of who was wearing the stripes that night. In a sport as physical as football, fights are bound to happen.
Another argument that I keep hearing is that players and coaches are trying to manipulate the refs throughout the games to get some kind of a competitive advantage. Don’t they do that with the regular refs? John Madden wrote once that he would always talk to the head of the officiating crew before the game and mention Art McNally’s name (NFL Head of Officiating during Madden’s tenure with the Oakland Raiders) just to let the refs know that he knows their boss personally to gain that competitive advantage.
Screwing with the refs is nothing new, and it won’t stop when the regulars come back.
I also keep hearing about how miserable the officiating has been over these first two weeks and the preseason. I just don’t believe that to be true, and I think it is a massive overreaction. Holding and pass interference calls are subjective and missed all the time under normal conditions, so blaming the replacement refs for those is idiotic. We have to remember that this is a game that is officiated by the human eye, which has been and always will be flawed. These calls will not just magically go away once the regulars come back.
The other prevailing opinion is that since the replacement refs are presumably not doing as good of a job as the regular refs, that entitles the regular refs to everything they are demanding from the NFL. This kind of logic falls under the same line of thinking as “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. If I ask for more money and benefits from my employer, they hire someone else to do the job for cheaper than I would do it, the replacement does the job 80% as well as I do it (which may or may not be good enough), that does not automatically make all of my demands reasonable. The only situation that I can see that being the case is if the employee does a job where they are literally irreplaceable or people will die if they don’t come to work that day. Football referees don’t fall into either of those categories.
Also, the demand to watch NFL Football is high and constant. We are all going to watch anyway, so we might as well stop complaining about it.
I want this issue to be resolved just so that at the end of the season, there are no excuses. With that being said, that doesn’t mean give the regular refs anything they want. Both sides: be reasonable.