The most recent set of negotiations between the NFL and NFL Referees Association have broken off, making it increasingly likely that we'll see replacement officials in Week 1. Sports Illustrated's Peter King provided an interesting nugget on the subject in his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column:
Another story showcasing these fine, upstanding men in the striped pajamas, aka the replacement officials: I cannot say which game this story happened in, but I can tell you it did happen. Final preseason game for two teams. Official calls defensive pass interference in front of the penalized team's bench. Head coach lambastes the official. Official picks up the flag, tells the coach he's not going to make the call. Coach is stunned.
This kind of incident begs the question: How will replacement referees impact Week 1 action?
Replacement refs will be somewhat awkward, but won't decide gamesThe labor situation with the NFL's officials has reached a point where I seriously doubt the "real" officials will be on the field for Week 1. That said, I don't think this will affect the games too much.
The integrity of the game is important, and the entire labor battle has been mildly interesting. But the replacement refs officiated 65 preseason games, and they didn't decide any of them. They looked sloppy and produced a fair amount of unintentional comedy, but little was game-changing. That's what I think this will be like: A little awkward, but not fatal. And the reality is, real refs screw stuff up, too. I just don't think the replacements will erroneously impact the outcome of a game. Man, I hope I'm right.
Replacement officials have one big advantageIt was the preseason for the referees, too! Sure, they had their fair share of mistakes, but I think the game is better off with crews that have gone through the entire four-week preseason schedule.
Officiating an NFL game is an imperfect science. Football asks a lot of its officials -- more than any other sport. For my money, I'll take the guys who have been doing it for the past month over the guys who would be thrown in at the last minute if an agreement is reached.
Aggressive play from this preseason will carry over until flags are thrownFrom what I saw in the preseason, teams have been more aggressive with offensive holding, defensive holding (which is rarely called), illegal contact and defensive pass interference. I expect teams to continue that trend until flags are thrown.
The NFL observer in the replay booth and the alternate official on the sideline should help reduce some of the mistakes made in terms of mechanics and rule interpretation.
Mass confusion should be expected, but the games will go onThere will, no doubt, be multiple conferences between confused replacement referees in each game on opening weekend. Incorrect calls will be pointed out by announcers, media and fans with more vigor than if more experienced officials were on the field. At least one game will feature a late missed call that "costs" a team the win (a convenient excuse for fans dismissing all of the mistakes made by their favorite players and coaches leading up to that moment).
But in the end, the games will go on as scheduled and Earth will continue spinning on its axis. The presence of replacement referees should not overshadow the start of the 2012 NFL season.
Hard to imagine how replacement officials won't be the story of Week 1Here's what's going to happen, in a nutshell. There will be a handful of egregious mistakes made by various officiating teams -- let's say five or six -- that can't be rescued by instant replay. I was initially one of those who thought we wouldn't miss a beat with the replacement refs, but some of the calls that were missed in the preseason were inexcusable. And the cherry on top of that sundae was, of course, the call during the Tampa Bay-Washington game that so incensed the crowd, the officials eventually told the fans (and television audience) that they'd take another look at it. Wow. Is that all it takes? I might have to hit MetLife Stadium each Sunday and full-throat every call the Jets' way.
Now, I don't see the final minutes of a game being affected because of the use of replay; the pressure to get that right will be huge. No, it'll be plays like early touchdowns that shouldn't have counted -- or vice-versa -- that will have teams fired up after Week 1. Touchbacks that were actually downed at the 4-yard line. Saying the wrong team won the coin toss. I don't see how replacement refs won't be the No. 1 story in the league after Sunday. The bottom line is, right now, no one (teams, fans, media) trusts replacement officials to call a good game.
Replacements aside, league needs to update replay procedureBased on the replacement refs' performance during the preseason, I pine for Ed Hochuli's presumably oiled-up guns more than ever. However, I care less about who's wearing the striped shirt than who's putting their head under the hood.
Memo to the league: Our society now provides technology that is superior to having a middle-aged man reviewing plays on a miniature screen while 75,000 rabid fans prejudice his opinion. Seriously, are those monitors under the hood even in HD?