Flags raised on NFL replacement referees
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After the first week of the season, when the NFL’s replacement officials slid mostly under the radar, the league must have let out a sigh of relief. Maybe the controversy wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe the backups could bridge the gap and let the league continue its lockout of the regular officials.
Not so the second week. It was, in short, a disaster.
“I think the [replacement] officials are being put in a very difficult position,” said Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice president of officiating who now does analysis for Fox. “If you put all the Division 1 college officials, BCS college officials on the field, it would be a very difficult transition for them. To come from the lower levels, you’re even asking more.
“To expect that they could perform on the same level as the NFL guys that have 1,460-some-odd years of NFL experience is ludicrous. That’s not even a possibility.”
They haven’t. Not by a long shot.
So, Pereira has said, it’s time for the league to settle. It’s time to replace the replacements with the real thing, the NFL officials who have studied and learned and worked their way up the ladder. It’s time to send the backup referees back to the small colleges and put familiar names back in stripes.
It won’t happen for at least another week. Multiple news sources reported Friday that the NFL and the regular officials met for two days this week, but the sides remain far apart in negotiations, with no further talks scheduled.
Nearly every game last weekend featured a mistake by the replacement referees, some with the outcome on the line. It became clear the officials weren’t fully aware of the rules, that they were being bullied by players, that no one was satisfied with the situation and that it was putting a damper on the season.
As the Ravens’ Bernard Pollard said during a local radio interview this week, “This is way out of their league . . . We have something on hand that is messing up the integrity of the league and nothing is being done about it. These guys need to be out. They need to be out.”
The Ravens had two controversial calls go against them in their loss to Philadelphia.
‘‘Missed calls & bad calls are going to happen,’’ Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita wrote on Twitter. ‘‘That’s part of the deal & we can all live with it. But not knowing all the rules and major procedural errors are completely unacceptable. Enough already.’’
The Redskins’ D’Angelo Hall even joked about taking up a collection in the locker room to help settle the dispute and get the regular officials back on the field.
‘‘Officiating is never perfect. The current officials have made great strides and are performing admirably under unprecedented scrutiny and great pressure,’’ NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail to the Associated Press this week. Aiello did not respond to an e-mail inquiry from the Globe. ‘‘As we do every season, we will work to improve officiating and are confident that the game officials will show continued improvement.”
But that’s not enough for most. Not even close. Not when replacement officials are starting to lose control of games.
The infractions have included extra timeouts, incomplete passes ruled as fumbles, incorrect yardage awarded on holding calls, mismanagement of the clock, and a touchdown called back without a flag being thrown.
Pereira pointed to the holding call on the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski last Sunday, which negated a late go-ahead touchdown run in a loss to the Cardinals. Pereira said it was “not a very strong call. Will they defend it? I think they probably will. But it’s certainly marginal. I know that they would say privately that they wished that wouldn’t have been called.”
Perhaps the most egregious mistake in Week 2 occurred in the Rams’ 3-point win over Washington, when coach Jeff Fisher was allowed to challenge a lost fumble by St. Louis near the goal line and it was overturned, leading to a field goal. Coaches are not allowed to challenge turnovers ruled on the field, and it should have resulted in a 15-yard penalty on the Rams.
“The one thing that you have to master first is the rule book,” Pereira said. “You have to master it. You actually have to know it 100 percent by heart so it’s second nature when you’re on the field.”
That unfamiliarity by the replacement officials has slowed the pace of games.
“Football rules are football rules, but the NFL, they have so many differences than college football rules, and it takes forever to master that,” Pereira said.
That’s why just one rookie official is assigned to a regular NFL crew. He is to learn from the veterans, to have them by his side. That’s why it takes two seasons for an official to get assigned to a playoff game, and five seasons to earn a Super Bowl assignment.Continued...