Grading the NFL Replacement Officials
By: Mike Sullivan
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You can’t turn on an NFL preseason game without hearing the words “replacement officials” within the first 10 minutes of the broadcast. There has been much talk and controversy regarding the NFLRA strike, and the replacement refs taking over the officiating duties for the time being. While many people think that the NFLRA is just holding out for more money, that is not entirely true. The bargaining has to do with many other factors besides the economics. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also characterized the differences as “philosophical.” The NFL’s proposal includes making some refs full-time (currently all game officials work part-time with outside jobs) and also adding more crews. Goodell went on to say that “Increasing the pool of officials would allow the league to replace individual officials or even entire crews that are not performing well.” It is rumored that the NFL wants to add three new officiating crews this season to start preparing younger refs for the years to come. Considering the fact that a lot of the league’s top officials are aging, this might not be a bad idea! NFLRA lead negotiator Mike Arnold stated that the union was open to discussing such issues but any proposal to increase the number of officials while decreasing the pay for current refs was not viable. It’s possible that the replacement officials might have to start off the regular season as well, if no deal can be made before the first game on September 5.
The replacement officials have done a pretty adequate job so far this preseason. While there is not one certain call that stands above the rest as “unbelievable” or extremely shocking/noticeable, there still has been many instances where the lack of experience has come into play. You can tell just by body language alone that the NFL coaches and players feel they are superior to these officials. There has been many situations where the replacement refs have struggled with communicating on the microphone, or have taken longer than usual to discuss and assess the outcome of penalties.
To their credit, however, the replacement referees have never come anywhere close to officiating games with the talent level, speed and athleticism that an NFL game contains. These refs officiate NCAA Division 2 and 3 contests where they might come across 10-20 players per season who even have NFL potential (depending on the conference they ref in). Combine the talent level with the quickness, and some rule changes that they aren’t used to at the college level, of course the officiating isn’t going to be perfect. Stepping in front of 70 to 80 thousand fans is a lot different than just a few thousand on a college campus as well. As the referrers get adjusted to the NFL game play, their officiating will improve and they will gain confidence, should they have to step into the regular season duties. They have been asked to simply fill in for the regular NFL officials and that is exactly what they’ve been doing. After all, you cannot make up over 1,400 years of NFL officiating experience within just a couple of weeks!