NFL fans should not have had to suffer through referee lockout


Jacqueline LeBlanc

feature photo by Erin Kleekamp

NFL fans breathed a sigh of relief that their 2011 NFL season was no longer in any danger of not existing July 25.  Avid fans would be able to enjoy their Sundays with their favorite teams and players as opposed to watching ‘scabs’, or back up players, like during the 1987 season when NFL players went on strike.

So, naturally when the National Football League Referee Association began a lockout this summer prior to the 2012 NFL season fans overlooked the situation.  For many people, referees are just accessory officials who blow games with outrageous, outlandish calls and are easy to blame for a rough loss.

And then fans learned of the replacement referees.

Maybe it was just the fact that people needed an explanation to the combined two- to seven-week three record among the elite New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints after just three weeks, or the fact that football is just not the same when a flag is thrown on the field essentially every other play. But the replacement referees were harshly and publicly scrutinized— for a good reason.

They simply did not know how to do their job.

Now it is understandable that having essentially ultimate power over one of the most watched sports in America, as well as having to fill the shoes of notable referees like Ed Hochuli and Walt Coleman, may be somewhat intimidating. But that provides no excuse for the jobs done by the replacement referees.

During Week three’s highly anticipated Sunday Night Football Game’s rematch of last year’s AFC Conference Championship game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, the replacement referees called 24 combined penalties for 218 yards — double the combined average of penalties called on both teams a game during the 2011 season.

Not only were these frequent penalties a constant nuisance to the teams and fans, but only a mere 12 of those 24 penalties were deemed correct by NFL analysts for the The Bleacher Report, and at least two of the Raven’s touchdowns resulted from invalid, bad calls by the referees, including a controversial holding call on New England’s linebacker, Brandon Spikes, in the fourth quarter.  According to the NFL Digest Rulebook, a defender’s hands cannot be thrust forward above the frame to contact an opponent on the neck, face or head. And yet, according to the instant replay, it was apparent the Raven’s player was holding Spikes.

Yet, the questionable calls during the Ravens and Patriots game and over the past three weeks were not enough to call attention to the significance of the poor job done by the replacement referees. The pattern of poor officiating spilled over into the next day during the Monday night game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks.  Bad play calling and adjudication by the referees graced the entire game; however, it was not until Seattle attempted a last effort, possible game-winning Hail Mary pass to the end-zone  that the replacement referees fully caught America’s attention.

Receiver Golden Tate and defender M.D. Jennings both made leaping grabs in the air for it and appeared to have both caught the ball.  One referee called the play finished and signaled for stoppage of the clock; another called the catch a touchdown.

While at first it may have seemed like both Jennings and Tate caught the ball simultaneously, which results in an offensive player catch, according to the NFL rulebook, instant replay and America would disagree.  After a long discussion, the referees called the catch as touchdown and Seattle won 14-12.  However, not only did the replacement officials not call one of the most blatant offensive pass interference calls on Tate right before the catch, but it was clearly obvious that Jennings intercepted and came down with the ball as opposed to Tate.

How is it possible that the replacement referees, a group whose job it is to closely watch the game for infringements, not only made the wrong call but also did not see an obvious game changing penalty when they are standing a mere five feet away?

The answer was beyond America and apparently the NFL.

Immediately following the Monday Night Football debacle, the NFL and the NFLRA worked to reach an agreement, eventually ending the lockout last week.

However, it was no mere coincidence that after three weeks of bad officiating and still no sign of agreement until America highly criticized the NFL that they suddenly worked to resolve the conflict.  The NFL’s reputation as a class act was in danger.

It may seem that the fault of three weeks of bad football and constant, poorly explained officiating calls can be placed on the shoulders of the replacement referees, it shouldn’t be entirely.  The NFL carelessly hired under-qualified referees to do the job.

And even though the conflict is now ‘resolved’, it really isn’t.

What’s troubling about the NFLRA lockout is that it will eventually happen again.  And while it may not happen with NFL referees since they have reached an eight-year agreement, it is bound to happen with another group of people, such as the current ongoing NHL player lockout.

Fans shouldn’t have to be affected by these types of problems.  Whether it is the NFL, the NHL, or simply another union group, it should not be a long drawn out process.  These groups should not carelessly watch these problems substantially grow, but instead immediately work toward an agreed solution.
It was not fair that the players, teams and fans had to endure the bad calls made by the replacement officials, and wonder if it possibly would have made a difference in the outcome of the game because the NFL did not make a great effort to come to an agreement and provide a solution.  The next time an issue like this rolls around, those who care need to make their voice heard, by sharing their opinion and contacting an appropriate person dealing with the issue.
By Jacqueline LeBlanc