Every sports fan knows a diehard who complains about the referees constantly.
To them, just a single call against their team is enough to start up the conspiracy theories about how the referees are out to get them. But recently those diehards have been joined by similar complaints from media members, coaches and even players, all because of the NFL replacement referees.
With negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement stalling between the NFL and NFLRA — the referee’s union — the NFL decided to lock out the regular referees in June of this year. The main sticking point between the two sides is the referee’s current pension plan, which the NFL would like to take away and replace with one that requires contribution from the referees.
With the lockout stretching into regular season games, a need for replacement referees arrived and a group of mostly college referees was hired to call the games.
This has turned into an unmitigated disaster for the NFL, as there have been constant complaints from all corners of the football world. Most of the criticism focuses on the officials' basic lack of professionalism, both in dealing with the players and calling the game.
For example, last Sunday, replacement referee Brian Stropolo was removed from calling the Saints/Panthers game because of his public declaration of being a Saints fan on his Facebook page. Stropolo had multiple pictures of him wearing Saints gear and going to games at the Superdome. Yet he was still nearly allowed to referee a game with his favorite team involved.
Also on Sunday, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy gave more credence to the idea of the replacements being fans. McCoy said that during the game one referee told him he was on his fantasy football team and that he therefore needed McCoy to perform well.
One of the worst calls by the replacement officials so far was made near the end of that game. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick’s incomplete pass inside the 10-yard line with just a minute left on the clock was initially, and inexplicably, ruled as a fumble. Luckily, the automatic review of the turnover was able to fix the call on the field, but it is still harrowing to see such a simple call messed up.
But the real issue so far has been the complete lack of control that referees have exerted over the games they call. Take Sunday’s Redskins/Rams affair, which was described by fans and media about 2,743 times as “chippy,” with multiple skirmishes between players breaking out during the game.
The referees’ inability to gain control of the game ended up biting the Redskins when former Virginia Tech wide receiver Josh Morgan was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct in the waning seconds of the game after throwing a football at Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan. This penalty backed up the Redskins enough that they were no longer in field goal range of kicker Billy Cundiff and they went on to lose 31-28.
The antics of the replacement referees have tarnished the reputation of the league and ruined the integrity of the games being played this season. However, the NFL refuses to admit what is obvious for all to see. In a statement issued after this Sunday’s games, the NFL wrote, “the current officials have made great strides and are performing admirably under unprecedented scrutiny and great pressure.”
The complete denial of anything being wrong by the NFL should be worrisome to fans who will have to continue to deal with long reviews, player fights and blatantly missed calls as the NFL and NFLRA continue to battle. When replacements referee a game, the fans are the ones who lose.