This fall we may have referees who’ve never worked an NFL game patrolling the field. While that sounds scary, they’ll all still be able to explain rules–any rule–much more concisely and clearly than Ed Hochuli, so we’re already winning.
I still can’t get through this without gleeful, child-like giggling…
In the league’s annual spring attempt to have some kind of court disagreement piss off fans and provide NFL news that isn’t DUI related to scroll across tickers, the negotiations to renew the CBA with the fine men who regularly officiate games have still been fruitless. Now it’s early June, and there’s no other option with preseason games already about two months away than to begin organizing replacement officials. The league and the NFL Referees Association have been in mediation under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and today the league officially started its lockout of the referees.
That’s a lot of large legal words to say this: the league won’t let the referees work until they have a new CBA, and now dirty scabs are being prepared. Since the professional officials have mostly induced headaches with their work over the past few seasons, they won’t have any leverage until their amateur replacements screw up.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the league will “look anywhere but the BCS” to find replacement refs, meaning the elite levels of college football won’t be touched because that would piss off the NFL’s free minor league too much. Instead, high-end retired college referees will be targeted, along with college refs from smaller conferences, and maybe even arena league officials (gulp).
Regional training sessions will start later this month. The league last hired replacement officials in 2001, and they worked a preseason game and Week 1 of the regular season before an agreement with the regular refs was finally reached. There’s precedent for this among North America’s other major sports leagues too, with baseball’s umpires replaced in 1979 and 1999, and the NHL operated under replacements for 17 days in 1993. Negotiations on a new CBA for the regular league officials have been ongoing since October, but talks have recently stalled.
Your reaction to replacements on professional fields is quite predictable. This is horrible, you’ll say, and if an agreement isn’t reached by next fall and replacement refs have to officiate real, meaningful football games, then every call that goes against your team will be blamed on those damn scabs. Because, you know, every call that goes against your team isn’t blamed on the referees right now.
Berating refs is a sporting pastime associated with every professional league since a time long ago during a prehistoric caveman era when it was determined that officials are needed to enforce rules. Without referees there would be lawless chaos, but we’d also be bored, and there wouldn’t be an easy scapegoat for every loss.
The referees who could replace Hochuli and his gang of muscle-building rules masters certainly won’t have the same experience on the professional level. In recent years the league has introduced new rules to legislate against head shots, but the normal refs don’t have much experience with them yet either. Those calls are based on one man’s judgment, and it takes years to hone the instinctive eye required to make that snap ruling. The regular refs are further along, but their progress is still marginal.
Adjusting to the gap between the college and pro games from a referee’s perspective is a matter of mastering the minor tweaks, and that can be done during the preseason (i.e: two feet are needed for a legal catch in bounds, not just one). Beyond that, a firm and thorough knowledge of fundamental football rules is required, something any college referee possesses with confidence.
They’ll make mistakes, and they’ll piss you off. So really, nothing will change.