Touchback? Really? Replacement Refs in Week One

Photo by Swtpc6800 Michael Holley

Heading into tonight’s kickoff game between the NY Giants and Dallas Cowboys, a huge topic of discussion–aside from fantasy football leagues–is the fact that week 1 will be officiated by replacement referees.

The preseason has not been a good one for the rookie refs; it’s included gaffes from the baffling to the hilarious. Among said gaffes: naming a team that wasn’t in the game, while announcing a penalty to the stadium; spotting the ball on the wrong hashmark; changing the call several times during the announcement to the fans; and perhaps the biggest doosy, calling a touchback on a ball that was CLEARLY downed around the 4 yard line.

The thing is, while I’m not loath to jump all over officious and incompetent league officials, this really isn’t the new guys’ fault. Basically, these replacement refs have been thrown to the wolves. It’s like bringing a whole bunch of guys, without warning or sufficient prepping, from Single-A baseball to the Major Leagues: sure, some can cut it, but many will suffer. The speed of the game, the size of the crowds and arenas, the media scrutiny, the level of expectation and the overall feeling of pressure are HUGE in the NFL. Furthermore, it doesn’t help that, with every ludicrous call, the scrutiny increases. The fact that it eventually got to the point that the players were laughing on the sidelines, albeit with good reason, only makes it worse–it’s akin to a player in a terrible slump seeing people laughing at him in the stands. I’m not sure where most of the replacement refs came from, but I understand that most of them don’t have the officiating background to adjust to the NFL game–and I’m also pretty sure it doesn’t matter. All things considered, the replacement officials haven’t been nearly as bad in aggregate as their most egregious errors have made it seem, and besides, I believe a lot of people are missing the point: that the NFL really didn’t need to let it gets to this point.

The NFL, for a few years now, has made a big production of ‘seeming’ concerned with player safety. And they’ve always staunchly backed their officials, even in instances when they were clearly borderline bonkers (Calvin Johnson caught a one handed touchdown and placed the ball on the turf, to be told he hadn’t maintained control all the way to the ground, in one of the biggest howlers of a few seasons ago). So now, in lieu of what I understand is a pretty small pay adjustment–from a league whose overall revenue is preposterous–they throw the referees under the bus and bring in a whole platoon us unseasoned officials to manage a game that’s faster and bigger than ever?

It begs two questions: are they serious about player safety? Or are they just admitting that they didn’t think that much of their previous roster of officials?

Either way, as usual, the joke’s on everyone else when NFL brass decides that their ridiculously fat bank accounts aren’t ridiculously fat enough.

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