We have had two full weeks with the replacement officials and while there haven’t been a large number of glaring missed calls, something just feels off. In fact, a study of the replacement ref’s calls through the first two weeks actually looks favorable. So what is it about the replacement refs that fans and players have such an issue with?
For me as a fan, it is easy to sit on the couch and determine with video replays and close up shots what the right call should have been. This is something that we expect the officials to get right and for the most part, they are. The main difference between the replacement refs and the regular referees is the amount of time it takes to sort things out. I applaud the officials for gathering together and making the right call, but it needs to be done quicker. There comes a point when a 5 yard penalty or less than favorable spot is actually more beneficial than the momentum lost by having to wait for the officials to sort things out. Officials, replacement or not, miss calls every game – it’s part of the human element. The regular officials put much more emphasis on not interrupting game flow, however and didn’t really give the teams (or the fans for that matter) the time to argue the call before the next play was run and all was forgotten.
Everyone remembers back to school when the teacher would be out sick and in comes the poor substitute teacher. Word usually got out, prior to the sub walking in the door that the regular teacher was going to be out, and so everyone got together to work out the game plan for making that subs life a living hell. Everyone coughing at 1:30, telling her the wrong chapter to teach, and the list goes on. Basically, you knew that since the substitute teacher was playing catchup, you could get away with a lot of stuff that the regular teacher wouldn’t tolerate. The same thing is happening with these replacement officials. Nobody respects their authority (coach or player) and you can see that their decisions on calls are being swayed by player or coach reactions. Extra-curricular activity (otherwise known as pushing and shoving after the whistle) is noticeable up as the replacement officials are either too scared to get in the mix or just don’t know what to do. Mandates have been sent down from the office of the Commissioner warning about possible fines and penalties for this type of activity. Any time the league office has to step in because the players and coaches are out of control, you know it’s a bad situation. It is no different than the principal coming down to sit in the back row while the substitute teacher is in class, just to be the established authority figure. Even if it goes over the top with penalties, the refs need to set a tone that says they are not to be messed with. It might take a week, but you will see the arguing, shoving and whatnot start to decrease.
Reading all the rulebooks in the world does nothing to prepare referees for what happens in realtime on the football field. These are the finest athletes in the world and they are all running around at high speeds, pushing, shoving, and hitting each other. Many of these refs barely even have any college football experience, let alone NFL speed. So it will be important for them to understand where to look, what to look for and how to respond accordingly. One of the big areas of complaint is in the pass interference/illegal contact portion of the game. There is always a lot of arm barring, bumping, etc when receivers go out for routes, but these refs are not trained to know the yardage in which it is legal or illegal and have a hard time calling the illegal contact because it’s not a rule that is enforced at the collegiate level.
As I said before, it is easy for us as fans to sit back and gripe about the refs, but we would be doing that even if they were the regular officials and not replacements. It is just important for them to get up to the speed of the NFL and understand that this league is the elite, best in breed, and the officiating needs to match the play.