Don’t Hate the Replacement Refs, Hate The Game … And Still the Commissioner

As we’re quickly finding out in the case of the NFL refs, no replacement will ever truly “replace” the real thing, even when the real thing is something we usually hate.

Here’s the funny thing: everyone in America agrees on this call except these two people.

The boiling point for the crop of substitute officials came in Monday night’s Seahawks-Packers game, which will undoubtedly go down in the record books as a blatant example of the referees deciding the winner with a bad call. What’s worse is that there were a TON of other really obvious mistakes this week. And last week. And the week before that. And all through the pre-season.

These refs have literally been assigning wins and losses to the wrong teams through bad calls, which is the worst thing an official could ever do. At the end of the day, every fan, player, coach and even cheerleader wants to walk away from a game knowing the game was decided by one team outplaying the other and not by a blown call. This kind of football is just a unsatisfying product for everyone.

There’s a lot of deserved finger-pointing at the new refs and some speculation that recent events will provide the right kind of  leverage for the real refs to get a deal worked out with the league. But all of this is missing the problem. Are the real refs bad? Absolutely. Is it Their fault? Probably not. Whose fault is it? Keep reading.

Here’s something interesting about last night’s Packers-Seahawks: even if the referees could review the play via instant replay, neither pass interference nor dual possession are things that can be changed upon review.

Here’s something interesting about the Sunday night Patriots-Ravens game: Even if the refs wanted to go to the video replay system to make 100% sure that the field goal was good, there isn’t an angle that would provide the right view.

Here’s something interesting about Jim Harbaugh getting two additional challenges after his final timeout in Sunday’s 49ers-Vikings game: It’s not reviewable.

That pylon on the ground and IN THE FIELD OF PLAY? It’s not standing up because Lance Moore landed on it.

Here’s something interesting about the Saints-Chiefs game on Sunday: Three different plays were ruled Saints touchdowns on the field and over-ruled in the replay booth. A fourth was blown dead before the Saints walked into the endzone and the replay showed the play shouldn’t have been blown dead. This doesn’t fall into the same category as the previous three examples, but we’re getting to a point where the NFL needs to formally apologize to this team and I personally blame Goodell for all of it.

Are the refs making some bad decisions? Absolutely. But isn’t that what the institution of instant replay was intended to fix? There have been a lot of calls that could sort of go both ways lately and in all of those cases, the refs aren’t allowed to fix it. The human error that was supposed to be removed is just re-introduced as a “judgment call” that no digital replay can supersede. The refs aren’t making the right calls in the first place, but wasn’t instant replay supposed to be the safety net on that?

Do we really think that the actual refs are going to make correct calls all the time? Or even anywhere close to it? What we’ve seen with the replacement refs is a more than usual number of iffy plays that were going to end up upsetting half the audience no matter what the outcome was. And let’s not pretend that the real refs make all the calls correctly all the time either. *Cough* Tuck Rule. *Cough* I remember a thanksgiving day game where the “real refs” screwed up the coin flip winner.

The problem is that there’s a lot of gray area in any officiating. No matter who the ref is or how much he/she gets paid, there’s never going to be universal agreement on what the correct call is. That’s what instant replay was supposed to fix. Correction: That’s what instant replay still can fix.

Dual possession in the end zone on the last play – instant replay it. Offsides – instant replay it. Number of timeouts – instant replay. Line of scrimmage clarification – instant replay. You get the idea. It is the most insane idea that the NFL instituted instant replay as the be-all, end-all determination of what happened on a play and then decided that half of the rulebook wasn’t subject to it. That half of the rulebook is just as important as the rest and those rules impact the game just the same.

What’s my solution to the ref problem? Give them more access to replay. And better camera angles while we’re at it. We don’t need a Minority Report system or anything, just remove some subjectivity and add a couple of extra objective eyes. That way it doesn’t matter whether the refs are real or replacements.

Honestly, I don’t care about the real refs coming back (which could happen really soon, by the way), I care about limiting the damage that human error can introduce into football officiating. I don’t have a stance on which party is more in the wrong, my stance on strikes and lockouts is that usually everyone involved is to blame at least partly.

But if there’s any way we could all agree to blame Roger Goodell, that would be great.

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