The Replacement Referees Train Wreck

Refs

Three weeks of the 2012 NFL season are in the books and if you’ve missed any of the action thus far, LATF has you covered with the biggest stories across the league. First up this week:

The biggest story of the year revolves around the men in the striped shirts, not the ones in jerseys and shoulder pads. The NFL’s regular officiating crews remain in a prolonged contract dispute with the NFL over salary and pension benefits, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has turned to replacement referees to pick up the slack.  How have they done?  Just ask the players and coaches. Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes tweeted, “Can someone please tell these f------ zebras foot locker called and they're needed Back at work!!!! #BreakingPoint.”“Missed calls & bad calls are going to happen,” Browns linebacker Scott Fujita wrote on Twitter. “That's part of the deal & we can all live with it. But not knowing all the rules and major procedural errors are completely unacceptable. Enough already.” New England Patriots head coach Bill Belicheck grew so angry Sunday night that he actually grabbed a replacement official by the arm, an almost unheard of action which will surely earn a major fine from the NFL. Even legendary Sports Illustrated NFL columnist Peter King has chimed in, saying that “the legitimacy of NFL games is at stake with officials who simply aren't suited to work games of [this level of] intensity and importance.”

But the coup de grâce occured on Monday Night Football. Throughout the NFL season, supporters of the scab refs have clung to the argument that none of the bad calls made by these refs have ever determined the outcome of a game. Unfortunately for the NFL, that argument is no longer valid. In a tightly contested matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night, the officials blew a call on the last play of the game that flat out robbed a victory from the Packers. With no time left and the Seahawks down by five, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass to the endzone. With the ball in the air, wide receiver Golden Tate shoved the nearest Packer to the ground; one of the more blatant offensive pass interference penalties of the year. Except the replacement refs missed it. To make matters worse, Wilson's pass was apparently intercepted by the Packers' Jennings, but Tate wrestled control of the ball from him when they were on the ground. What was the call? Touchdown!

To be fair, many of the much-maligned replacement referees have never worked games above high school or the NCAA division III levels, where blown calls may anger parents in the stands but have no chance of earning national media attention. Now their every move has been placed under an extreme microscope and every mistake is chastised on national TV, at which point millions of fans (and players apparently) around the world take to twitter to express their anger. 

Regardless of whether the criticism is fair or not, this situation has become an embarrassment for the league.  Word has leaked from the officials’ union that the biggest holdup in negotiations is pension benefits, which the NFL wants to cut nearly in half for the league’s 120 regular referees. That comes out to about $3 million against the NFL’s bottom line every year. While that may seem like a lot of money, for a league that brought in over $9 billion in revenue last year and continues to grow, $3 million is an embarrassingly low total to go to such great lengths to protect. Goodell gambled that the difference between the league’s regular officials and the guys he pulled off the street would be negligible, but he has been dead wrong. Now the regular referees’ leverage in negotiations with the league has only increased. Mr. Goodell, in the words of Teddy KGB in “Rounders,” “It is time to pay these men, pay these men their money.”

By Lance Williams

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