Replacement officials could endanger NFL
The National Football League will soon have a real credibility problem. The only reason it doesn’t have one now is because not enough people are paying attention, but that could change in a hurry.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the league is playing its preseason games with replacement officials. I know what you’re thinking: They are preseason games, what’s the big deal?
Here is the big deal: People could get hurt. The officials, unfamiliar with the speed of the pro game, could get hurt. And players could get hurt. A team’s entire season could be lost for what amounts to chump change.
It is wrong. What’s more, it is bad business.
When a replacement official bungled the coin flip in the very first preseason game – Saturday’s Hall of Fame game – some people thought it was funny. The NFL Referees Association didn’t see the humor. It circulated a report citing 10 major gaffes by the crew that worked the game.
On Thursday, a replacement official blew an obvious call in the Eagles-Steelers game. Eagles receiver Mardy Gilyard tumbled into the pylon after catching a pass from Nick Foles. It was clearly a touchdown but the nearest official ruled Gilyard out of bounds at the one-yard line.
The decision was overturned on review, Gilyard got the touchdown, but it never should have come to that.
I know, we see blown calls every week in the NFL and in an exhibition game who really cares? If it is just a matter of coin flips and touchdowns by fourth-string receivers, most people will shrug it off.
But what happens if a replacement referee chokes on his whistle and as a result Peyton Manning winds up taking a late hit that puts him out for the season? Or a game gets out of control and you have players seeing just how much they can get away with? Someone could be badly hurt. A career could be ruined.
The other possibility is that one of these replacement officials -- recruited from the Arena League, small colleges and high schools – gets in the way and winds up being crushed by a 250-pound tight end running a 4.5 40. All it takes is an umpire who is out of position or freezes at the wrong moment and you have a collision that no one wants to see.
Yet the league runs this risk every time it plays a game with replacement officials.
It makes the league look hypocritical. Commissioner Roger Goodell keeps talking about player safety and how that is his No. 1 priority. That is the justification for the sanctions he handed down in the Saints bounty case. If anyone dares to criticize the penalties as too harsh, Goodell climbs aboard his high horse and says he is doing all he can to make the game safer and reduce the chance of injury. Who can argue with such a noble sentiment?
But Goodell’s position looks less credible when he allows the teams to play games with all rookie officiating crews. There is real danger in that. If player safety really is his main concern, how does he justify letting this go on?
And the amount of money in question is ridiculously low for a league that is awash in riches. According to published reports, the two sides are separated by what amounts to $100,000 per year per team over five years. Most clubs could pay that out of the petty cash drawer.
For a billion dollar enterprise like the NFL to prolong this folly over nickels and dimes doesn’t make much sense.
There is a lot of criticism directed at the officials over the course of a season – calls are missed, some in ways that leave you scratching your head – but the reality is the guys in the striped shirts do a very good job overall.
Unless you’ve been down on the field, you can’t fully appreciate how fast the pro game moves. To be able to keep up with the action while processing a rulebook that is in a constant state of revision and coping with a gray area – what’s the "new legal"? – that is forever expanding, it is one of the toughest jobs in sports. The NFL officials do it well.
Get the deal done. Get them back on the field, because the next mistake might not be so easy to overturn.E-mail Ray Didinger at email@example.com