NFL has a real problem with replacement refs

AP Photo/Mike Roemer

Last night was one of the low moments in the history of the NFL.

With one disputed call that changed the course of an entire game, the league changed its course as well. We found out that commissioner Roger Goodell cares about winning his labor dispute with the locked-out referees more than putting the best possible product on the field for the fans.

Players and coaches have been trying to bully the replacement refs on the field for the first four weeks of the regular season — four weeks we thought would be officiated by the professional refs. When we watched the debacles that ensued in the first few weeks of the preseason, we all sat back and convinced ourselves it was so ugly that Goodell would have no choice but to get the real referees onto the field for Week 1, by any means necessary.

How wrong we were.

Everyone has different positions on the dispute between Goodell and the refs; Some fans believe the commissioner needs to show refs the money, while others are convinced he can’t budge and needs to refuse the demands of the union to give the partially-employed refs pension after they retire. Guess what? Both sides are equally as right as the other, and they’re both equally wrong.

And no matter how bad the product on the field gets, things won’t change until the fans start tuning out.

I’ll say this — I won’t stop watching the Falcons, regardless of what is happening around the league. My team has been largely avoided in the bad-officiating epidemic, aside from the occasional forgetting-how-many-yards-to-step-off-for-a-penalty snafu. I can live with that, even though the zebras should be able to do that correctly. Something like that rarely affects the outcome of a game like a bad pass interference call or a missed call on the goal line could, even with the benefit of instant replay.

The Falcons are simply playing too well for me to tune out and make my voice heard, and if Atlanta has to go all the way to the Super Bowl with replacement officials, so be it. Besides, I don’t blame the officials for anything that’s happening. I blame Roger Goodell, who is the guy who would have to hand that Lombardi Trophy to my team at the end of the season if they won the championship.

So if you want my simple answer, the easiest way to get the real officials back is to stop watching. That, of course, would only work if everyone else stopped watching, too. And as you just read, that won’t happen.

If you look at the numbers, you’d know that people are obsessed with the disaster unfolding. According to ESPN Stats and Research, SportsCenter showings after last night’s debacle averaged 6.46 million viewers per minute, making it the most-watched episode of the show ever. It’s been a decade since SportsCenter was in peak form, so those numbers show the morbid curiosity the fans have with the sad situation.

Football fans want to see change for the better, and they want their old referees back. But they’re not going to eat a $90 ticket on Sunday afternoon because the refs might blow a call, so the stadiums will remain packed and people will be as passionate about their teams as ever.

I just hope the players and coaches show more patience going forward, because it’s sad watching them curse out referees who clearly don’t belong at the highest level (when is the league office going to fine Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for running down a ref and making contact with him Sunday night, by the way?). If they did, they’d be there already, and they, too, would be sitting on the sideline right now, waiting for a deal from the commissioner.

Are you going to boycott the NFL, or will you continue to watch? I want to know. Please leave me a comment below and make your voice heard.

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