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NFL replacement referees are hurting the game
Published 9/14/2012 6:00:00 AM
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Stumbling, bumbling, clumsy and awkward. These are just a few choice words that can be attributed to the overall performance of the NFL’s new replacement refs so far this season.

Locked out since early June, the NFL Referees Association has made little-to-no progress with the league in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Since then, a rag-tag collection of referees with  résumés ranging from the Lingerie Football League to Division II football has been utilized in order to keep the NFL organized as the regular full-time refs are left waiting in unemployment limbo.

If this situation sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it is. A dispute between NFL owners and players threatened to end the 2011 NFL campaign before it even began as players were unable to practice or participate in team activities. However, an agreement was reached before any games were spoiled because of the lockout.

Counting the preseason, we’ve now experienced five weeks of football with replacement refs running the show and since then, we’ve seen more than a few bouts of sloppiness by the men in zebra stripes.

University of Phoenix Stadium was the site of the NFL replacement refs’ biggest blunder to date as the Seattle Seahawks took on the Cardinals on Sunday.

With Seattle trailing 20-16 and threatening to take the lead with just seconds remaining in the game, the unthinkable happened.

Pete Carroll’s Seahawks were accidentally ‘awarded’ an extra timeout by the replacement officials after Carroll had mistakenly requested the timeout with 30 seconds remaining.

The slip-up led to a five-minute break in the action as the officials scrambled around conversing with each other in a feeble attempt to correct their error.

What added insult to injury was the fact that the referee who granted Seattle an extra timeout used his microphone to announce to the crowd that no mistakes were made, only to admit after the game that he was in fact wrong.

As crippling an error as it was, the replacement refs would be under far more scrutiny today had the Seahawks found the end zone and won the game because the timeout allowed Seattle extra time to organize their game plan for the game's final seconds.

If you’re an avid NFL fan, you’ve likely picked up on various other officiating mistakes around the league. Many are more minor in scale but still mind-boggling and potentially game altering.

Another mistake that showcased the inexperience of the replacement crews occurred at the end of the second Monday Night Football game between the Chargers and Raiders.

Up 22-14 with just seconds remaining on the clock, San Diego lined up to punt the ball away harmlessly on fourth down.

Oakland rushed their men onto the field but forgot a return man. Seeing this, the Chargers downed the ball and time expired.

However, rules indicate that if the game ends on a punt and the punting team first touches the ball, the returning team (Raiders) should be granted one untimed play.

As unlikely as a 95-yard touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion are, the fact that the referees were unaware of this rule and cost the Raiders one last shot is troubling.

Overall, there were mistakes aplenty from the replacement refs in week one, carrying over from their sloppy preseason showing. These sloppy calls include missed penalties, incorrect calls, incomplete passes being ruled fumbles, forgetting to reset play clocks and forcing teams to call timeouts.

With word from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that he expects the replacement refs to stick until at least week five and perhaps beyond, there is no immediate end to this referee identity crisis in sight.

The NFL is going to have to disregard a whole lot of video and photographic evidence if they expect to argue that their 'scab' officials are not shafting fans’ favorite football teams.

The ultimate irony is that the NFL has been in the forefront regarding use of instant replay so as to ‘make the right call.’

It's time for the NFL to make the right call and bring back the official referees.

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