If a football coach started a seventh grader at left tackle, people wouldn’t be in an uproar over why the seventh grader couldn’t block a 6’8″, 300-pound defensive linemen.
They’d blame the coach because a seventh grader clearly isn’t qualified to block someone three times his size.
But when the NFL assigns equally unqualified refs to officiate NFL games, fans direct the ire to the refs themselves. It’s understandable, and make no mistake, the replacement refs have no business officiating at the highest level. The replacement refs are plucked from the ranks of Division 2 college football and below and have blown many-a-call already this year.
They’ve marched off the wrong number of yards after a penalty, granted challenges to teams that had no timeouts remaining, and they have so much trouble remembering which player committed a penalty that they completely gave up on identifying which player committed a penalty.
And that was all this week.
Unsurprisingly, fans have been furious. Entire stadiums have erupted in profane chants against the officials (think the student section after any call against the Ducks with 70,000 people participating). The Twittersphere has shown an unrelenting hatred. Even players and coaches are criticizing the refs on a level that they wouldn’t dream of doing to the NFL’s regular crews. Bill Belichick even grabbed an official’s arm after his Patriots lost a game on a last-second field goal that appeared to go directly over the upright and was controversially called good.
He can expect a hefty fine, as can Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes, who tweeted “Can someone please tell these f*cking zebras foot locker called and they’re needed Back at work !!!!
Well, I had to change one character of that tweet. I think you can guess which one.
There’s a lot more to that tweet than just an athlete ticked off after a blown call. That’s an athlete who doesn’t appear to respect the officials.
And that’s dangerous.
It’s also not an isolated case. The Steelers’ Larry Foote reportedly chased the refs into the tunnel after a game in Oakland and yelled, among other things, that they should kill themselves. Other players and coaches have reportedly yelled equally nasty things at refs both during and after the game.
It’s understandable anger, but it’s directed at the wrong party.
The NFL is simply being unwilling to take talks seriously and after meetings yesterday ended without results, no further talks have been scheduled. This isn’t a billionaires versus millionaires situation; like most lockouts in sports, this is entirely a Commissioner Roger Goodell issue.
The NFL needs to be doing all it can to get its regular crews back to work, and until they reach that goal, 100 percent of the criticism or replacement officials needs to be directed at the league office. These are guys that are still working their day jobs — which for some quite literally involves seventh grade football — and are thrust into a situation they simply aren’t prepared for.
It’s not that the replacement refs aren’t incompetent. They’re terribly incompetent. But they’re not to blame for their own incompetence, and unless and until there is a serious financial stake for the owners, we’re unlikely to see a resolution any time soon.