Replacement Officials Could Have Dramatic Impact on NFL Games This Year

As you may already know, the NFL locked out their regular officials weeks ago after an impasse was reached over salary. You can read more about the reasons here and here. After reading this article by former NFL Head of Officiating Mike Pereira regarding the league's plan for using replacement officials, I'm not optimistic that this will go well. He first sums up what the officials and their union are asking for, and it doesn't seem unreasonable.

Drew Brees just signed a new contract that will pay him $40 million in 2012. Players' salaries are paid per game during the regular season. That is 16 paychecks. For Brees, that comes out to him earning $2.5 million per game. Gene Steratore, an official we hired in 2003 who is generally regarded as one of the better referees in the NFL, is the official in charge of protecting Brees and his $2.5 million per game. Steratore made $5,606 per game during the 2011 season and would like a raise to about $6,000 per game this season. The NFL is offering him $5,746. To sum this up, the NFL is offering its crew of well-trained officials a compensation increase of 2.5 percent. The officials are asking for 8 percent.

It should also be pointed out that NFL officials already make far less than the officials in other major sports. Make the jump to read the startling details on who the NFL has hired to replace them. I fear for the integrity of the game and for the luster of Goodell's precious shield.

So, the two sides cannot agree. And that has brought about the lockout and the controversial prospect of replacement officials.

What is at risk? Clearly, the two areas that will be most compromised are player safety and the integrity of the game.

Let's establish some facts:

• NFL football is extremely tough to officiate. The speed of the game is incredible.
• NFL officials are not perfect. They make their fair share of mistakes.
• NFL officials have a combined total of 1,456 years of NFL experience.
• The replacement officials the NFL plans to use have zero years of NFL experience.

Pereira predicts that the replacement officials will make much more mistakes than regular officials.

Many more mistakes will be made not only in the area of judgment but also in game management, including timing and rules interpretation.

So, for those of you that say the integrity of the game is already at risk with the regular officials, it will be a lot more at risk with this group of replacements. If I am a quarterback in the NFL, I would be a little nervous about putting my protection in the hands of a referee with no NFL experience as opposed to a regular NFL referee who averages 14.9 years of experience.

After reading where the NFL is getting these replacements, I can't say I disagree. YIKES!

Who are the replacement officials? Are they coming from a group that includes the next wave of highly trained people that will be brought into the NFL ranks? Not even close!

There are officials with high school experience only. There are officials who were dropped from their college conference. Three officials from the Pac-12 Conference that were not rehired this season for performance reasons are now going to work NFL games.

Think about it: They weren't good enough for the Pac-12, but they are good enough to be trusted to work in the NFL.

There are semi-pro officials who are scheduled to work NFL games, too. There are even retired college officials — most of whom have been out of the game for many years — among the NFL’s group of replacements.

There will not be a single official that I know of under consideration by the NFL that is currently working in any of the major college conferences.

It's already well known that NFL football is much faster than college football. College ball is faster than high school football. How can the league expect guys with only high school officiating experience and others who weren't even good enough for the NCAA to fill this important role?

I would never argue that regular NFL officials are perfect and incapable of fault. I shouted to the rooftops last December that "Mike Carey and his crew SUCK!" That said, these replacement officials will surely be even worse.

Pereira explains how these replacements are being trained.

Who is training the replacements? Not the current NFL trainers. This esteemed group that includes former referees Jerry Markbreit and Red Cashion, former umpires Jim Quirk and Ron Botchan, former line of scrimmage officials Sid Semon and Ben Montgomery, and former deep officials Dean Look, Tom Fincken and Bill Schmitz has decided — for the right reason — that it will not work with the replacements.

These highly regarded veterans understand the officiating labor impasse will eventually be settled, and they do not want to jeopardize the good relationship with the officials they work with now.

This means there are now nine fewer people training the inexperienced replacement group the NFL has assembled. The men mentioned above are nine trainers representing 265 years of experience and 22 worked Super Bowls.

It’s important to note these trainers weren't fired by the NFL. They were told by the league that they are "seasonal" employees, and I guess it is not their season. They also had to turn in their NFL-issued computers, which contained their training materials.

This thing needs to get settled before a single down of football is played.

Simple facts are that player safety and the integrity of the game are at risk. Both sides need to sit down and negotiate. Both proposals have room for negotiation.

If the NFL wants to play hardball, then the league needs to answer the play safety and integrity issue. If the officials want to play hardball, they, too, will be complicit in these issues, and will be giving up one of the things in life they love doing most.

This is shaping up to be a nightmare situation. NFL football has the potential to become extremely inconsistent and discombobulated as a result. The most interesting aspect of preseason football may be watching how these replacements try to learn their job and adjust to the speed of the game. It will surely be a trial by fire for them. Maybe once the NFL sees how these replacements struggle and thereby put a huge damper on the enjoyment of the sport, they'll wise up and give the regular zebras a fair pay increase. A 2.5% increase is a joke when compared to the salaries of officials working for other major sports.

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