Three weeks into the NFL season, and there is not a talking head within a continent of a microphone that is not calling every move made by the replacement referees into question. Heck, Conan O’Brien got into the act as well. It was impossible to watch the Sunday night game between Baltimore and New England, and see how they warped the game.
The talking heads (looking at you Cris Collinsworth), not the referees.
According to the average NFL fan, the average NFL coach, and the average NFL player, the referees are blowing calls left and right, putting player safety at risk, and ruining the competitive spirit of the game. Honestly, why the referees have not been blamed for the weather or the economy yet is beyond any rational thinking.
That being said, the replacement officials’ performance at the end of the Seattle/Green Bay game was… awkward. Though the call on the game-deciding catch is questionable, it does follow the letter of the rule, stating that if two players have simultaneous control of the ball, the ball is automatically given to the offensive team. Whether Golden Tate ever had enough control to say “simultaneous” is a matter for debate. However, the referee followed the letter of the rule: neither official could say who had control, and thus they followed what is written in the rulebook. This was an error in inexperience rather than judgment.
Overall, have the replacements been making incorrect calls? According to NFL Stats, through the first weeks, the replacement referees are, in fact, more accurate than last year’s referees, correct on 0.7 percent more calls. Making too many calls and destroying game flow? Nope, there have been fewer penalties per game, 14.7 from 15.2 last year. Have there been fewer penalties on player safety hits, such as horse collar tackles and roughing the passer, putting the players at risk? Wrong again, more calls in that area, 75 to 74. More calls of offensive pass interference, which receivers like Percy Harvin of the Minnesota Vikings could not stop talking about after the first two weeks? Wrong again, Percy. Six offensive pass interference calls this year, nine of them last year.
So, if the stats favor the replacements, why is there so much whining? The answer, again, probably lies in inexperience. The new referees are inexperienced, and occasionally seem to lack the courage needed to immediately stand up and make their call, even if one team is going to go ballistic over it. They feel the need to be reassured by the rest of the staff, which delays the game and makes the players and fans impatient. However, by the way analysts have skewered the officials, you would think the referees were sacrificing puppies in between snaps.
Why all of the hatred towards the referees? It is because they make a convenient scapegoat. Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, noted that most of the complaining about the referees seems to come from the losing sideline. Why make excuses on how your game plan was not executed to its fullest, or how your team underperformed in the clutch, when you can blame it all on the referees, who will likely be gone later in the season, and get your fans to agree with you?
The worst section of the complaining is the inevitable part about how player safety is the highest priority. Bull. Crap. Presidential campaigns are far more truthful. Player safety only started mattering to Roger Goodell when all of the players maimed during their playing days decided that their benefits needed to be better. Player safety only started mattering to the players when the saw their brethren drop dead not long after retirement from various concussion related maladies. As late as 2008, NFL teams still mailed out a video out of the biggest hits of the season, many of them remarkably unsafe and illegal in the game today. Where was the outrage then?
The complaining about the referees is not going to stop anytime soon. They could be perfect till the day they return to their previous jobs, and the media outlets will still attack them play after play. While they miss a call or two, they are human, and the original referees were hardly perfect. This is what commentary has been reduced to. And this is why this season is such a mess.