What are they thinking?
The National Football League prides itself on the strength of The Shield. Mess with The Shield and trouble will follow.
The Shield represents all that is right with the NFL. Best football on the planet. Cleanest sport on the planet. No other professional sports league has prospered more and experienced more success than the NFL.
So why in the world would this highly successful pro sports enterprise mess around with the men who officiate their games? Why upset the competitive balance by locking out officials?
That’s exactly what’s happening now less than a month before the start of the exhibition season. Until a labor agreement is worked out with the zebras, we can look forward to – well, maybe that’s a poor choice of words – we will be forced to watch games officiated by relative incompetents.
By using replacement officials, the NFL is asking for more trouble than it is prepared to handle. It’s bad enough when the men hired by the league in the first place make mistakes. Imagine how bad it’s going to be with officials who have never set foot on a professional football field; officials who have no idea of the speed and quickness of the NFL.
“To take seven officials who have not worked Division I games or not worked the last several years and put them on the field has got to be pretty unsettling,” said NFL Referees Association President Scott Green. “Not only to the players and coaches, but to the fans. The players have plenty of things to worry about on the field. They don’t need to be worrying about the officials.”
The chaos such a scenario would cause works in the officials’ favor. What’s hard to believe is that the league does not recognize the potential dangers a continued lockout would have. And should it last into the regular season, who knows how dangerous it could become?
For a league that has finally begun to realize the seriousness of concussions and to go to great lengths to reduce and recognize them, it seems rather strange and unusual it would turn its back on the men who help control the ferocity of the game.
It will be a situation fraught with all kinds of unhappiness on a number of levels if we see replacement officials. The players will hate it. Coaches will hate it. Fans will hate it. Complaining will be a daily occurrence. Sports talk shows will explode with all kinds of rhetoric.
It’s not as though the officials being locked out are asking for the moon. All they want is a better contract than the last one they bargained for in 2007.
The league, however, stands firmly behind the replacement officials if it should come to that.. “Our goal is to maintain the highest quality of officiating for our teams, players and fans, including proper enforcement of the playing rules and management of our games,” the league said in a prepared statement.
“We are confident that these game officials will enforce rules relating to player safety. Contrary to NFLRA leadership, we do not believe players will ‘play dirty’ or intentionally break the rules.”
They are dreaming.
The last time the NFL used replacement officials was the opening weekend of the 2001 season. It was an unmitigated disaster.
According to one report back then, the Oakland Raiders’ game at Kansas City “verged on getting out of control” and that replacement officials “generally were reluctant to call holding penalties in any game.”
Less than two weeks and one game later (after the NFL postponed games the Sunday following 9/11), the regular officials were back after having struck a deal with the league and order was restored quickly. One would think the league would have learned its lesson.
The Shield should no better. Hopefully, cooler and saner heads will prevail and the league will finally get serious with its officials. The zebras are subjects of criticism during the season, but we don’t know how really good they are until replaced by men who have no clue as to how to control a game on the professional level.
So if the two sides do not reach an agreement, prepare yourself for some ridiculously bad officiating. It’ll give you a whole new perspective on the regular guys.