The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 27, 2012

The NFL is back, refs and all

By Jonathan Deal
jonathan@athensnews-courier.com

— It’s over.

The referee crisis of 2012 has come and gone and all it took was the now infamous, “Fail Mary” to get the deal done. After three weeks of blown calls, no calls and reverse calls, a deal was finally reached Wednesday night between the NFL and officials union.

As the details emerge from which side got what, one thing is certain is that it should have never come to this. After having all off-season to negotiate, it took back-to-back embarrassments televised in primetime for the NFL to cave in.

And what did Roger Goodell and the owners gain by allowing this charade to last three weeks into the regular season? Not much, according to the initial details which have emerged from the deal.

There were wins for both sides, but most were expected. The officials’ union did receive a 4-percent wage increase, but the major issue hanging up the deal was the referees’ pension. With all the multi-millionaires on the field every Sunday, the NFL was battling over $3.3 million per year in pension payouts. That equates to a little over $100,000 per team for a $9 billion industry.

In the end, no one really cares about why the NFL sent replacement refs out there. After Monday night’s debacle, all the casual fan wanted to know was why the NFL, with all its perceived integrity, would employ an inferior group of individuals to officiate their favorite teams.

And with all do respect to these replacement officials, they were way out of their league. Most of these refs were pulled from Division III college, junior college or in one case — The Lingerie League.

I officiate collegiate soccer in my spare time, mostly traveling to places like Jacksonville State, UNA and Wallace State — the same or higher level of competition where the NFL found its replacement refs. While I feel confident in my ability to officiate the level of games I’m assigned, in no way am I prepared to do a center on an MLS game.

And no one should have expected these substitutes to be qualified either. The replacement refs could not keep up with the speed and complexity of the professional level, often losing control of the game.

The irony of it all is that these refs were hired to give the NFL leverage by showing that the game could go on without the normal officials. Over the last three weeks, they have done the exact opposite.

While the “normal” officials might not get every call right, they will demand more respect, manage the game better and bring integrity back to the “The Shield.” For some comparison, the seven officials refereeing last night’s Browns vs. Ravens game had a combined 70 years of NFL experience between them.

Three weeks into a bad experiment and less than 48 hours after one of the worst blown calls in league history, the NFL is officially back, referees and all.