NFL Referee Ruckus

Courtesy of Associated Press

The 2012 NFL season has now finished the Week 3 matchups, and even an early stage of the game has not failed to entertain with unexpected twists and turns.

One thing that has been under a lot of scrutiny is the assessment of the overall performances for the sport’s referees, or should I say, the “replacement referees.”

With three weeks of games complete, almost all have been plagued by blown calls, cheap penalties and lengthy reviews for plays that sometimes seem blatantly incorrect. On the other hand, for as much as NFL fans are upset with the worsening trend, both the league and the Referees Association are at fault.

After the close of the 2011 season, the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the sport’s Referee Association expired. Both sides contended with their own list of demands and potential agreements, but neither side could accept an agreement, thus leading the NFL to lock out its usual game officials before  preseason began. Two years, two lockouts; dare we mention a pattern?

On the Referee Association side of the dispute, a main demand was an increase in salaries. After careful calculation, it was announced that carrying out the proposition would cost each of the 32 teams in the league at least $100,000 a year. In addition, the Referee Association wanted the league to commit to compensation for the former’s financial benefit plans.

Instead, the league offered a seven-year agreement along with annual compensation increases and conversions to the officials’ pension plans. Furthermore, they wanted to make a group of officials convert to officiating full-time, but over 90 percent of the officials refused due to pre-existing full-time jobs in addition to working as a referee. One of the most notable examples in that category is infamous veteran referee Ed Hochuli, who is a full-time attorney for the Phoenix, Arizona-based law firm Jones, Skelton and Hochuli, P.L.C. off the field.

In order to save the season from potential cancellation, the league decided to place replacement referees in charge of the games, ones who only had past experience in officiating either high school or lower division college football games. To add additional fuel to the fire, the replacement referees training was reported to have been “rushed.”

Expecting controversy, the players, coaches and teams prepared for questionable penalties and issues regarding the review of plays. For example, in their first game of the 2012 season, the Seattle Seahawks were granted a fourth timeout late in the final quarter against the Arizona Cardinals. The fact that the Cardinals had used their allotted three timeouts earlier seemed to slip the referees mind.

While mistakes are now peppered throughout the game, a changed element that is often overlooked is the speed of the game.  Players are taking advantage of the replacement officials in order to get away with controversial play tactics. Unfortunately, the rowdy play leads to the replacement referees losing control of the game. If this trend continues to pick up as the weeks of the season progress, it will end with either a player or official that will get injured on the field and be taken off on a stretcher by the stadium’s medical staff.

All these issues soon culminated in the first half of Week Two’s Monday Night Football game between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons. The replacement officials made numerous incorrect calls, causing multiple delays as the replacement referees attempted to right the call. Furthermore, the referee’s lack of control over the players led to several scuffles between the two teams, one of which caused a 10 to 15-minute period of the replacement referees trying to sort everything out on the field before the next snap could be made. Usually it will take just over an hour to complete one half of an NFL game, but the poor officiating in this particular game led to a second half that lasted an hour and 49 minutes.

No matter when the dispute will end, the NFL will still retain its fan base in the millions. However, their credibility in handling labor agreements is certainly another story. The debacle of replacement referees calling games is only getting worse as the season progresses, and the only solution to the problem is for the league and the Referee Association to come to an official agreement. Until that day comes, NFL fans will just have to tough it out.