The Replacement Refs Aren’t the Problem….


Everyone is basically criticizing the replacement referees that the National Football League is using while the regular referees try to hash out a deal to continue working.  Even President Barak Obama is taking time out of his day to “bag” on the referees.  If you go to and look at their story listings, there are at least a dozen stories on how bad the replacement refs are.

Do I agree that the games are being called a little loosely and not as efficient or accurate as the games that would be called with regular referees?  Sure, I agree but not many of you know the truth about the replacement referees and why it is so difficult for them to call these games as accurately as they should.

Sept 24, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Referee Wayne Elliott (28) speaks with field judge Richard Simmons (102) before making a ruling on a call between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE

In my past experience as a general manager of a semi pro football team, each semi pro league does not operate under the same rules of the game.  And to clarify, there are different rules of the game.  College rules differentiate from the NFL rules in many aspects.  The clock stops in the NCAA after a first down is made, while NFL keeps the clock running.  Downed runners in the NCAA only have to touch the ground, whereas the NFL player has to be touched by another defender.  These are just a couple of examples of rules that have been noticeably challenged in the last few weeks of professional.   My first team that played semi pro football operated under NFL rules.  The next team I was GM for operated under NCAA rules because we played in a different league.  Why did we change from a league with NFL rules to NCAA?  It was quite simple, we had more missed or botched calls during that first season because we were asking referees that officiated high school games to conform to professional football rules, which was something that were not accustomed to.  It’s kind of like putting the square peg into a circle.  It didn’t fit and we had many times that the officials would halt the game to pullout their NFL rules to clarify things.  The next football season, when we switched to a league that had rules that were more accustomed to calling with we had fewer problems with the officials and were able to enjoy a relatively good season.

Which brings me to my point of this article, these guys are doing the best they can under the circumstances that they were given.  Not given much notice to prepare and study up on the rule differences, we are overly criticizing a group of people who are doing their best.  Some of the calls made such as the call made where the official called a touchback instead of putting the ball on the 5 yard line, I’m sorry but that’s nerves.  I challenge you to think about it for a moment, some of the replacement refs are in front of crowds of 2,000-3,000 people in some instances.  Many Division II football games don’t draw the 75,000-90,000 crowds quite like the NFL games do.  Some of these referees are going from the Division II football environment to the professional.

So put yourself in their shoes, it’s not an easy job already but to be put in this position.  It’s really not fair to those guys that are trying to do their best.  Public criticism is, in my opinion, blaming the wrong people for the poor calls.  If we want to really point a finger, how about pointing it at the regular refs who are holding out.  They are putting some of these games in real jeopardy of getting out of control.  The game on Monday night saw a hit by a Seattle Seahawk DB that turned into scuffle with the Green Bay Packer receiver.  Granted both of them should have gotten the penalty but if the referees should have talked to the head coach or removed the player from the game, in my opinion.  There have been too many hits such as the one Sean Lee took from the same Seahawks a week ago.

Every time frustration sets in at the officials, just remember square peg going into a circle.

My last thought though is this, once the regular refs return these guys will be tossed to the side like many of the replacement players were in the 1980’s.  Believe it or not, there a few of those refs that deserve to stay at the professional level and probably won’t get the opportunity because of all of the negative press.