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Veteran NFL officials like Ed Hochuli were easy to criticize but not so easy to replace.
What happens when those charged with correcting mistakes are the ones making the worst errors of all?
The NFL is in the process of finding out, as the second week of replacement referees quickly deteriorated into mass confusion — with unorganized game management, inconsistent (or wrong) penalties called and a general lack of on-field discipline that, at times, bordered on out-of-control.
“There’s some serious calls the refs missed,” said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, following a 24–23 loss at Philadelphia, in a game filled with controversy as well as extracurricular physical altercations after the whistle.
“It’s just the way it is, man, all around the league. We have to correct that. These games are critical. Guys are giving everything they’ve got all across the league. But these are calls, with the regular refs — if they were here — we know the way the calls would be made.”
Currently the NFL has locked out 121 referees in a dispute over pay and pensions in a labor struggle that, in some ways, mirrors last year’s prolonged lockout of the players.
As a result, the league has turned to replacement referees to officiate games until both sides have come to an agreement. And the NFL doesn’t seem to be in any hurry.
“Officiating is never perfect. The current officials have made great strides and are performing admirably under unprecedented scrutiny and great pressure,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello stated in an email to The Associated Press.
Thus far, replacement referees have struggled with every aspect of the rule book — game clock, ball placement, down and distance, NCAA vs. NFL rules, replay, timeouts, etc.
And at the end of a rocky Week 2, tempers were running hot among coaches, players and even television analysts — one of which was quick to point the finger at Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league office.
“Everything about the NFL now is inelastic for demand. There’s nothing (the NFL) can do to hurt the demand for the game. So, the bottom line is, they don’t care,” said ESPN analyst Steve Young, during a postgame rant after Monday Night Football.
“Player safety? Doesn’t matter in this case. Bringing in Division III officials? Doesn’t matter. Because in the end, you’re still going to watch the game. … It doesn’t affect the desire for the game. If it affected the desire for the game, they’d come up with a few extra million dollars.”
The integrity of the game — or the 2012 regular season, at the very least — hangs in the balance. How many games have to be impacted before the regular referees return to the field?
“The time is now,” said Lewis. “Get the regular referees in here and let the games play themselves out. We already have controversy enough with the regular refs.”