Stop it! Just stop it!
You did it last year. You did it two years ago. Hell, you did it ten years ago!!! So, just stop it. It is getting old.
The “it” is whining. And namely, whining about officiating. But now, it is all about the replacement referees. And while the routine of complaining about missed calls and lousy officiating is old, it appears that many players, coaches, and even fans are suddenly suffering from amnesia as they pretend this is a new phenomenon that exists only with replacement refs.
The quick background on the issue is that the NFL could not reach an agreement with the referee’s association. Therefore, the NFL “locked out” the refs. It is, of course, no different from last season during the NFL’s stalemate with the players.
But the NFL is in a tough spot. Last season, with the lockout of the players, the league was willing to cancel the entire season. Of course, this had a lot to do with the guaranteed money that would come from the television deal even if games were not played. Nevertheless, while there could have been a possibility for replacement players, it seemed that the NFL was more willing to cancel the season rather than “force” replacements into the fold. An argument could be made that the NFL would rather miss a season than have their brand suffer through what some may perceive as poorer quality football [on par with the UFL].
The situation with the referees is much different. The NFL could not — nay! would not cancel the season because of the referees, an element of the game that is supposed to be invisible and never in the spotlight. You cannot have a season without “real” players, but you can have a season without “real” referees.
And so, the NFL attempted to move forward with these replacement referees. And all hell broke loose…at least that is what we were made to believe.
Complaints ranged from the referees making the wrong spots to favoring heavily towards the home team. Players, fans, coaches. All complained.
But where is the problem? Is it the replacement referees fault? Is it the NFL? Or is it more than that?
Blaming the Low-Hanging Fruit
The replacement referees have made mistakes. That sentence should be filed under “obvious” in the dictionary. So they are to blame for they are the ones spotting the ball incorrectly, granting extra challenges, and claiming simultaneous possession. They do not get a pass on that.
However, they do get the benefit of the doubt for two reasons. First, realize that they have suddenly been thrust into this position. Instead of “replacement referees,” let’s call them “rookie refs.” When a rookie player comes into the NFL, there is typically an understanding that there will be some bumps in the road. The playcalling is much more complex and the athletic ability of all the players is much more balanced than in college. Rookies will make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes are magnified, especially when the mistake lands the player in the “dog house” [see David Wilson].
If there are expectations that rookie players will make mistakes, then why not expect the same with “rookie” refs? I mean, imagine that the Baltimore Ravens decided to start rookies at EVERY position! That is what fans have faces with replacement referees…it is as though they are all rookies. And, unlike players, the refs have to be out there at all times. So the chances to make errors increases. Yes, some calls have been egregious. But, I think we are not placing these referees into the right context.
Again, these are NOT NFL referees. The best correlation would be taking a middle school teacher and placing them into a college professor position with the expectations that they could handle the different nuances of the classroom environment and material without any issues.
Second, are we to believe that so-called “real” refs do not make mistakes. The Seattle miracle was unbelievable, but the Seahawks have been on the other end of terrible officiating. Recall Super Bowl XL, where even head official Bill Leavy later admitted to “kick[ing] two calls in the fourth quarter and impact[ing] the game.” Which team was punished for those bad calls? The Seattle Seahawks. Or, the “Phantom Touchdown,” where in 1998 New York Jets quarterback Vinnie Testaverde scored a touchdown without even crossing the plane of the end zone. Not only was Seattle at the receiving end of that low blow, but it also cost them a playoff spot as well as their head coach.
And, the list could go on and on to include the no-call of DeAndre Levy grabbing the facemask of Joe Webb, which could have given the Minnesota Vikings another shot at upsetting the Detroit Lions. Or the mythical forward pass thrown by Jay Cutler in a 2008 game against the San Diego Chargers. Or Calvin Johnson getting robbed of a touchdown in Week 1 of the 2010 season.
All of these gaffes were not committed by replacement refs, but by the “real refs.” Hell, there is even a website called “Refs Suck,” which is dedicated to bad officiating and blown calls. With the “real” refs now returning, what makes people believe that these “qualified professionals” will not continue to blow calls as they have in the past?
Simply, the replacements are easy to blame because they are only a temporary fix and not a permanent part of the NFL’s long-term agenda. Thus, it is easy to blame the “outsider” rather than blame the major components of the machine. Why criticize the money-makers or the League when you can go after the low-hanging fruit?
The $1 Experiment
If the replacement referees were partly to blame, the NFL makes up some of the remainder. The NFL did not want to flinch to the lowly referees. Caving in and giving them a slightly larger crumb of the massive pie that is the NFL was not on their agenda. They’d rather face humiliation with an “inferior” product than give in.
But it is more than just the NFL’s stubbornness that is the problem. By throwing these replacement referees into the fire, the NFL basically set them up to fail. The NFL could not possibly have believed that the replacements would slide right in without a hitch. So, they were set up to falter.
Basically, the NFL pulled out a scene from the movie Trading Places, where Roger Goodell and the NFL are the Dukes, and the replacement refs serve as Billy Ray Valentine. Of course, Valentine foils the Dukes’ experiment by turning the tables on them, but basically it was as though the NFL could pull anyone in and make them a referee…all over a measly $1 (or, tiny piece of the NFL pie). Unlike Trading Places, the experiment failed.
Still, blame the NFL for this. But, there is one more group that deserves blame…in fact, one group that might deserve the most blame.
Anarchy in the NFL: Players and Coaches Lose Control
Let’s see. Bill Belichick grabs an official. Kyle Shanahan verbal murders another. Ray Lewis is allegedly intimidating refs. A tons of other players are pushing the limits to see what they can do.
So, why is there no blame being levied against the players and coaches who are attempting to take advantage of the situation?
We all remember the scenario in school. You arrive at school and the teacher is late. Then, an office assistant comes in to notify everyone of the best school day of the year — substitute teacher day!!!!!!!!!! And, of course, the first thing that crosses your mind is “What can we get away with today?”
Hey teacher, we already covered Reconstruction. Hey teacher, we usually take a break every 30 minutes. Hey teacher, Deep Throat really is about Watergate!
When the substitute teacher day happens, students push the limits. They want to see how far they can go. Students know what they are supposed to do, but they suddenly set the rules on fire and flush it down the toilet. They are going to act out because they know (1) the substitutes powers are limited, (2) the sub will be gone tomorrow [or at least soon], and (3) they do not have respect for the sub.
That scenario should seem familiar because the same thing happened while the replacement refs were being used in the NFL. In the end, what we are seeing is players AND coaches acting out because the “real” refs are away. When the sub is in, students all become morons. Apparently, when the replacements are on the field, players and coaches all become morons.
Would Jim Harbaugh attempt to con a “real” ref into giving him another timeout? Would Ray Lewis (or any other player) attempt to be overly intimidating towards refs? Would Belichick grab a “real” ref like he did on Sunday? [On second though, Belichick probably would do that].
Players and coaches knew that the replacement refs were not going to be around long so there was no reason to show them the proper respect afforded to “real” refs. Hell, even using the term “real refs” reflected that lack of respect. And, without that respect, players and coaches felt that they could get away with more.
And, by doing so, at least from the players’ perspective, they put their own health — and the health of their peers — in danger. This does not absolve the replacement refs from being strict with their calls and doing their job. But, the players pushed the boundaries on their own. These are professional athletes, for crying out loud! They know the rules just as well as the refs do. And yet, they purposely chose to ignore them in order to see how much they could get away with on the field.
The replacement refs make for easy scapegoats once again because if a player gets hurt, they can blame the replacements for not “controlling the game.” But, when the players are not respecting and pushing the limits, they are only endangering themselves. The replacement refs are simply a justification for “acting out,” especially if someone became hurt.
Perhaps New York Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck said it best when he noted that the replacements were doing their best, that they were in an unenviable position, and that the “regular guys…miss calls, too.” We could add to this that when the replacement refs get calls right or have a fairly-called game, we hear nothing about it. All that we hear is the negative.
But, replacement refs were not the one offering to give away extra timeouts or replay challenges. Replacement refs were not the ones trying to get away with murder (and not in the Ray Lewis sense). Replacement refs were not the ones who even asked to be thrown to the wolves. And, apparently, replacement refs were not the one in charge of the replay in the controversial Green Bay-Seattle game (and, according to ProFootballTalk, “real” refs may be to blame for not overturning the call). Blame needs to be placed on players, coaches, and (as many have done) the NFL.
With the “real” refs now back, I suppose the players are suddenly going to “behave” and stop trying to watch Deep Throat in class. All this will do is not damn the players but it will be painted that the “real” refs know what they are doing [and, to be fair, they do have a better sense of how to handle pampered NFL’ers] while it was all the replacement refs fault for the bad play and flubbed calls.
The “joy” over the return of the “real” refs humors me. Everyone is making a big deal about “getting back to work.” Yahoo! Sports even used a picture of a referee (a “real” one, i presume) shaking hands with Oakland Raider fans!!! I guess players, fans, coaches, and “real” referees are all going to sit around and sing “Lesbian Seagull” while roasting s’mores!
But, this reeks of that feeling where you want your ex back. You know, the time apart makes you feel all nostalgic about the happy times you spent with psycho! The walks in the park. The romantic dinners. The gentle touch. The fingernail-on-chalkboard sound of her laughter. The fact that she criticizes all of your friends.
That’s right! Now that the NFL has gotten back with their ex, it will not be long before those happy butterflies turn into terrorizing Mothras! And players, coaches and fans will once again criticize officials. And Raiders fans will be trying to stab refs in the back rather than shake their hands.
So, quit whining! The replacement refs are gone and we now have “real” refs to fuck over games!