NFL replacement refs: admirable effort or unacceptable incompetence?
The NFL is sticking by its replacement refs, saying they’re performing admirably. But after a Monday night game in which the refereeing clearly interrupted the game, pressure is building.
(Page 2 of 2)
“The replacement officials are in way over their heads, and they can’t control the game at this level,” writes Bryan Burwell, a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “With the replacements on the field … NFL games were teetering on the edge of uncontrolled, borderline riots.”Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The union representing the 121 regular NFL referees wants higher pay – the referees now share an annual salary package of $18 million – and better retirement benefits, all of which would cost each team approximately an extra $100,000 a year. The league says it wants to keep the status quo.
The lockout has led to one historic moment: Shannon Eastin, a college referee, became the first woman to referee an NFL game. But the replacements may also be tarnishing the league's reputation.
One official was ousted just a few hours before from refereeing a New Orleans Saints game after it became known that he was a Saints fan. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy noted on Philadelphia’s 94WIP radio station that the replacement refs are “like fans.… One of the refs was talking about his fantasy team, like, ‘McCoy, come on, I need you for my fantasy.’ Uhh, what?”
Talking about another referee, Giants player Victor Cruz told reporters, "I actually heard one of the refs, he'd only reffed glorified high school games.”
The league defended its replacements Tuesday. “Officiating is never perfect,” the league said in a statement. “The current officials have made great strides and are performing admirably.” The league said it is confident that the replacements “will show continued improvement.”
The league is making some defensible points: Regular referees make mistakes, too, and there’s no evidence that poor refereeing has seriously impacted the outcome of a game.
The league will hope that Week 3 performances improve to squelch criticism and bring back some negotiation leverage. But if concerns about player safety escalate and can be substantiated, team owners are likely to start chafing, says Professor McCann of Vermont Law School.
“As a long-term solution, clearly replacements refs are not the answer, and I assume the NFL is using them as a short-term fix to give the league some bargaining leverage,” says McCann. “There’s a distinction between games not being officiated in a credible way that leads people to question outcomes versus players getting hurt [because of bad refereeing]. If that happens, it will put the NFL in a position where they’ll have to strike a deal with the real refs.”
At the same time, McCann says to give the replacements a break. Given the NFL’s thick rule book and the difficulty of keeping track of 22 simultaneously moving players, it’s clear that they’re trying their best to do a thankless job.
“If you or I had to do it tomorrow, we’d be a disaster,” he says.