Loss of Control...The Replacement Refs After Week # 2
As NFL Week # 2 is in the books, the replacement officials have been under fire and often rightly so. One official had to be replaced for posing on Facebook wearing New Orleans Saints garb and announcing that he was going to be on the field for the Saints game while another reportedly told LeSean McCoy he wanted to be on his fantasy football team. And that was the minor stuff. A few thoughts:
1) Since the Steelers started late on Sunday, many of us watched some of the early games. Many of these games were embarrassing and painful to watch due to the lack of control and confidence of the various crews. I’m not talking about blown calls, even the DPI on Ike Taylor. Those are going to happen even if the entire crew was made up of Ed Hochuli’s and Mike Pereira’s. I’ve stated before that the real challenge for the replacement officials will be the procedural aspects of the game. It is logical since the ranks they were picked from have many different procedures than the NFL. College has different timings, run-offs, challenges, TV timeouts, ect. College doesn’t have illegal contact. The playing rules are fairly similar but these guys are struggling with procedures and being the MC of the game. This is causing huddles for every situation, long reviews. In some embarrassing situations we saw and official on the sidelines pushing an official on the field to get the spot right. The timing issues have been egregious, in my opinion.
2) I stand by a point I made last week that I don’t think the replacement officials factor into the player safety argument. These guys are calling stuff and actually throwing penalty flags for illegal hits. Again, you can have the Hochuli’s and Pereira’s on the field and if a player wants to hit another player helmet to helmet or smoke a wide receiver in the middle, they are going to do so; plus the damage (injury) is done, flag or not. However, the referee crew can nip things in the bud early. If players are getting “chippy” early on, a few flags here and there will set the tone and the players will adjust. Often it is not the severity of a punishment that makes people think, it is the certainty of a punishment that gets people’s attention. The players are going to try to see what they can get away with. Some of the replacement crews gave them permission to get away with acts not normally tolerated by not penalizing early.
3) The above mentioned Facebook and fantasy football officials committed a mortal sin of officiating and that is being known. Most referees of any sport are fans of the sport they officiate. I referee and closely follow a college team and a high school team but I don’t officiate their contests and I don’t openly talk about them. Perception equals reality and these acts constitute unprofessionalism and create a piss poor perception.
4) The replacement officials don’t look like they belong there. This isn’t an indictment on their officiating experience because they all are experienced, albeit high school or lower levels of the NCAA. They don’t look confident and that is an ass kicker as an official. Listen to the whistles. They are meek and not authoritative. The flags are normally late because they are thinking too much. They are getting beat up by the coaches and everyone else. They have jitters and I’m sure some are wondering what they got themselves into. This is also to be expected but going into week # 3 it shouldn’t be tolerated. Lack of confidence is typically a result of not understanding the rules. I suspect these guys are quite capable of recognizing holding, a facemask, helmet to helmet and know the playing rules fairly well. Again, the lack of confidence comes from the uncertainty of the procedural aspects of the game. But if the officials do not look confident, everyone else will doubt their abilities and that is already starting to occur. The “real” officials will look like they belong there.
5) These referees are experienced and there is a steep learning curve. That is to be expected. However, there is very little tolerance for learning during the regular season and every game now counts. There is parity in the NFL and many teams have legitimate playoff hopes. While a single call normally shouldn’t determine a winner or not, it often does. The coaches and players are reaching boiling points and several of them are probably justified. When I look at whiners and bitchers, guys like the Harbaughs are normally dismissed because they bitch and moan about everything. When you have a coach like Shanahan or Reid show disgust, that is a little more serious in my opinion since they are often guarded with their remarks and don’t normally blame anybody but themselves.
I’m not sure the “real” refs will be any better during normal play if the re-enter this season. I’m certain they will show an immediate improvement on the procedural aspects of the game and they will be confident. The “real” refs are under just as much fire for their game play and it has been for years but it is getting too painful to watch a group of men that look clueless, scared and not in control. I recall a Sports Illustrated article from October 9, 1978:
“Call it zebra flu, whistle fever, striped-shirt streptococcus. Whatever, the cause is readily diagnosed—it is the quality of officiating in the National Football League this year. The cure may be more difficult, for it is hard to remember a season that has produced such a rampant display of human fallibility as has been revealed—on television, always on television—by the officiating crews of the NFL. More than most men, football officials are destined to be forever defined by their failures rather than their successes.”
Here is the full article from 1978: