Out of Bounds: Replacement referees are ruining the NFL

It’s time to throw the flag on the replacement referees in the National Football League. What is their penalty? Doing their jobs horribly.

Since the professional NFL referees were locked out after their collective bargaining agreement expired in May, these replacements have been nothing but trouble not only for the teams, but also for the fans.

There is an eighth-grade geography teacher refereeing these games. One side referee, Brian Stropolo, was yanked from the New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers game because his Facebook photos revealed his longtime devotion to the Saints. Just the other day, a replacement referee told Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy that he was a member of the referee’s fantasy football team and that he needed him to play well. Officials are obviously prohibited from participating in fantasy football.

We’ve already had to sit through a lockout that was a huge detriment to the 2011 NFL season and now we have to deal with another one. The NFL is a $9 billion-a-year entertainment industry, and people are beginning to wonder why exactly the league can go with these overmatched backup refs. This lockout might actually be worse than the first one.

Executive director of the NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith stated in an interview with Sports Illustrated, “In America it is the employer’s obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible. The NFL has chosen to prevent the very officials that they have trained, championed and cultivated for decades to be on the field to protect players and by their own admission further our goal of enhanced safety. That is absurd on its face.”

This is just what we need. Smith makes perfect sense, yet the NFL is unwilling to strike some sort of deal. The NFL has created multiple rules regarding hits to the head, defenseless receivers and concussions, but how can it expect referees to enforce these rules if they have no idea what’s going on?

The broadcasters have also noticed how bad this is becoming.

CBS broadcaster and former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon said, “This is a problem that is not going to get better anytime soon. It’s not like they’re suddenly going to figure it out. It’s inevitable that it’s probably going to cost somebody the game.”

This nearly happened in week one of the NFL season in the Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks game. Head referee Bruce Hermansen awarded Seattle an extra timeout in a close game, a stunt that could have cost Arizona the game.

“It’s garbage,” Fox television analyst Tim Ryan said of the call. “It’s terrible. It’s awful. These are guys like substitute teachers, and nobody respects them.”

At least in Hermansen’s case, he noticed his mistake and publically announced, “It was my error. We gave [Seattle] the additional timeout because of the incomplete pass stopping the clock before the injury occurred. When in effect, the clock has no bearing on the play at all, whether it’s stopped or running; we should not have given [Seattle] the additional timeout.”

Fox Sports officiating expert and the NFL’s former Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira said he knows that the game has changed because of these officials.

“This is just not the same NFL game that we’re used to seeing,” Pereira said. “It’s sad. The league doesn’t want the games to be played like this. Regular officials make mistakes, too. But they don’t make as many and they don’t do the [huddling] thing out on the field that ruins the game’s pace.”

Pereira hit the nail on the head. The pace of the game is already something that drives other sports fans away from football. The younger generations are hungrier for a faster-paced game. If these replacement refs continue performing this poorly, the NFL could lose its second-largest age demographic of viewers. Ryan added that if fans keep watching, the league could hold its ground. The one thing that could end the lockout would be an influential owner finally putting his foot down.

The bottom line is that these replacement referees have not had enough training to be thrown into a position where one officiating mistake could cost a game for a team with millions of fans. There is even potential for rioting and violence, all because the NFL could not reach an agreement with the trained referees. The NFL needs to fix this problem immediately before something truly detrimental happens to these players and their fans.

Editor’s note:

On Wednesday Sept. 26, NFL.com announced the NFL reached an agreement with the NFL Referees Association. This ends the nearly four-month lockout and according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the referees will return to the field on Thursday Sept. 27.