NFL damaging its own product with replacement officials

Shannon Eastin, first woman NFL official, is among the replacements. (AP photo)

Shannon Eastin, from MEAC and first woman NFL official, is among replacements (AP photo)

For as much as the NFL is an image-conscious league, there is one unfortunate truth about its mind-numbing and protracted labor talks with game officials: The league isn’t in any hurry. There is no financial hit. The TV deals are safe, and no team is going to sell one less ticket or replica jersey if a replacement referee – whose resume highlights just may include the Lingerie Football League – happens to blow a call or refers to Atlanta as “Arizona.”

There is no reason to hide from any of that because even NFL vice president Ray Anderson, a former Falcons executive, shoved that reality up front in a phone conversation Friday: “We’ve offered raises of 5 to 11 percent. Just because the owners can afford to pay more doesn’t mean you do it. You’ve never paid for an NFL ticket to watch somebody officiate a game. Nobody has ever paid to watch me be the league supervisor for a game.”

He is right, of course. The problem is that the NFL season begins in less than three weeks, and there has been disturbing foreshadowing that suggests the referees may be the “entertainment.”

Two weeks into the exhibition season, we’ve seen a New York Giants punt returner called for holding (now that’s talent); a punt ruled a touchback even though it was clearly downed on the 4-yard line; a phantom facemask penalty against the Falcons’ Jonathan Babineaux (the official was the play); Atlanta being referred to as “Arizona” by a referee multiple times; a referee calling out the wrong winner of the coin flip before the Hall of Fame game; players witnessing debates between officials while they sort through confusion.

There almost certainly has been more. But that’s enough to paint a picture.

Most Falcons players wouldn’t bite on officiating questions, fearing they would be fined. But cornerback Dunta Robinson said after Thursday’s game, “I’m trying to take the good out of it and say: It’s preseason for them also. Some calls didn’t look like fouls to me. I think we got flagged just for playing hard. So Ed Hochuli: Get it right man. Come on back. We need you.” (Hochuli is a long-time respected official.)

Anderson, a point man for the league in talks with officials, has witnessed some mishaps in person, and whatever he has missed he has heard about later. But he’s not fazed. He said “there have been no more mistakes in the preseason” than there would be with regular officials, adding, “They’re just being highlighted because of the situation.”

Anderson said, “At this point, it’s very likely” replacement officials will start the regular season. (One Falcon said he was told to expect three games with replacements.)

“By the time the season starts, this will be a very credible group of officials,” Anderson said. “We’re frankly very comfortable.”

This is beyond silly. It’s irresponsible. It damages the product. Officials mistakes can determine game outcomes. Outcomes determine standings, playoff teams and seeding. We haven’t even addressed the potential of safety issues related to a poorly officiated game (rules are meant to protect players).

These replacement officials aren’t even as good as the ones who worked in 20o1. At least those were from BCS conferences. Most of these are from smaller conferences and the Arena League. Referee Craig Ochoa worked in the Lingerie Football League. Shannon Eastin, the first woman official, is from the MEAC.

The NFL is a $9.3 billion industry. It’s disingenuous enough when owners plead poverty and cut the pay of office staff during CBA talks, when network paychecks are hanging in the balance. But the difference between the two sides in these negotiations is relative change between the couch cushions.

The sides are roughly $2.2 million apart for the 2012 season and $16.5 million over five years. That’s a lot for us peasants. But let’s break it down. The $2.2 million equates to $65,750 per team. The $16.5 million over five years equates to $103,124 per team per year — or $6,445.31 per game. That’s roughly the cost of 60 game tickets, or the low end of a Georgia Dome suite for one game ($6,200-$14,000).

“So all we have to do is ask Arthur Blank to put another $100,000 in the pot with the other teams because he can afford it?” Anderson said. “Owners don’t do business that way. Owners will pay employees commensurate to their value.”

The message being: The NFL isn’t placing a high value on the officials.

They had better hope the right parties are providing the entertainment when the season starts.

By Jeff Schultz

109 comments Add your comment


August 19th, 2012
11:24 am

The old Refs had become the most important play-makers on the field. All the phantom roughing calls and fake unprotected calls on receivers have ruined the game. Turnovers have the highest impact on the game and these calls on third-down have the same impact. Officiating in the NFL had become as blatantly terrible and biased as the NBA.

Cheers to the replacements!


August 19th, 2012
1:31 pm

This is all politics we see how much money these owner’s pull in for just sitting back playing the market with people.These most of the below to the GAS,OIL and PETROLEUM party and they hang out with Donald so what do you think they really care if you get a fair game of not. Like Mr.Anderson say the owner’s got they money they don’t want to pay the tax’s…they don’t want to pay their employee’s… remember the player’s had to take they to court just to get their share of the TV contract.The only way you can get their attention is empty seat.Semi Pro-Officials,Semi-Semi Pro Price’s and I’ll you your season tickets they’re not going to cut them prices.


August 19th, 2012
4:15 pm

Pompano, you realize that those calls wern’t put in place by the officials them selves right? They were put in place by the same guys who’s call it is to put in new officials.

The Old officials have years and years of experience behind them, if I was going to have a doctor operate on me i’d rather have a professional of over 20+ years instead of some guy who’s either A) been fired from a respectable college conference or B) Some kid fresh out of school with no experience. The real officials are held at such a high standard, this isn’t something you can “learn” in 4 weeks like people are saying and it’s even more difficult to learn something when you don’t have a teacher. The people in charge of the current scabs have NO reffing experience and are going from the book 100%. Please tell me how many of you guys criticizing this go by the book 100% in your job? In every trade there’s tips and tricks that are learned and those are what distinguishes a rookie from a pro. The next time you need some work done on your house go pickup some of the guys in front of home depot and let me know how well your patio turns out. The bottom line is if you want quality pay for quality.


August 19th, 2012
4:21 pm

I am really getting tired of the complaining about the replacement refs. I really haven’t noticed that much of a difference than the poor officiating I have seen for the past five years. One only needs to review the tapes when the announcers have looked at the same review film that the officials do and somehow come to a completely opposite conclusion. And famous non call like the helmet hit to Jay Cutler which gave him a split chin, and not even a yellow rag to stop the bleeding. Lastly, how many players have been fined by the league, even though there was no flag thrown?


August 20th, 2012
5:49 am

My issue is people are comparing the biggest mistakes the replacements referees are making to the best job the regular referees do. I’d be willing to be some of these replacement referees are better than the guys that are getting paid $180,000 per year. Let’s compare apples to apples, let’s compare the post game evaluations from last years pre-season and this years pre-season. Show me the difference. A lot less subjective of a bunch of analyst that are at best somewhat inconsistant themselves.


August 20th, 2012
11:58 am

Enter your comments here

Roddie White

August 21st, 2012
5:45 am

I got something to say, but somebody deleted the Twitter App off my phone!!

Milton Friedman

August 21st, 2012
11:36 am

Keynesian economics has never worked, is not working and will never work.

[...] – NFL is deleterious the possess product with deputy officials [...]