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Steiner: Replacement refs threaten game (Sept. 4)

Peter Steiner | Monday, September 3, 2012

The time is finally upon us.

The rosters have been trimmed, fantasy drafts completed and even though Terrell Owens failed to make the Seahawks roster, the popcorn is ready for the opening week of the NFL.

But amidst all the excitement of the new season, let’s take a step back to remember where we stood roughly one year ago – fans, management and players alike let out a collective sigh of relief as the new collective bargaining agreement was signed. The lockout had ended and everyone involved was excited that football was back and unaffected by the four-month trench fight between the NFL and NFLPA.

Fast forward one year, where we can all be glad that America’s most popular sport isn’t affected by contract disputes and pension negotiations, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, this year has dealt us yet another lockout. And although it is less public than the last, it still poses a significant threat to the quality of the game we know and love.

Last week, the NFL announced its plans to use replacement referees in the first week of the NFL season as the lockout of the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) continues.

The battle began in early June, but unlike last year’s lockout, the two sides have still failed to come to an agreement despite the approaching regular season.

As a quick summary of the dispute, the issues at hand deal with the pay increase percentage, pension agreement and number of full-time referees the NFLRA is required to have. In most recent talks, the referees and the NFL were about $16 million apart for the seven-year deal.

If you have a hard time understanding why $16 million matters so much to the NFL, I’m with you. Over the seven-year span of the deal, that equates to under $75,000 per team per year. Besides, is this not the same NFL that was arguing how to split the annual $9 billion profit-pie with the players last year?

We probably wouldn’t be having this conversation if the replacement refs had officiated this preseason without many problems. But the fact is, they have been nothing short of awful. You could fill an entire SportsCenter Not Top 10 with the gaffes by replacement refs in just this preseason.

While the fans can voice their disapproval, the real critics should be the players. And judging by their outcries, they are frustrated with the subpar officiating this preseason and undoubtedly worried about how this issue will affect the regular season. They shouldn’t have to deal with inadequate referees when other, more qualified and previously successful officials exist.

As the lockout becomes more and more public, the NFLRA will continue to gain leverage. The players’ complaints and mistakes by the replacement referees only serve to strengthen the negotiating position of the NFLRA.

Can you imagine the turmoil that would occur if a referee blows a late call that changes the outcome of the game? I call to mind the anger in 2008 against one of the league’s best referees, Ed Hochuli, when he ruled Jay Cutler’s late fumble an incomplete pass, which allowed the Chargers to win the game. I can only imagine the criticism the NFL would receive if such an event took place with a replacement referee.

In the end, the lockout is about power and the NFL doesn’t look willing to relinquish any of its own by giving in to the NFLRA. It will be interesting to see how the situation plays out in the next month, especially if the replacements continue without errors.

With or without the lockout, America is ready for some football. Let’s just hope the quality of the game isn’t drastically affected by the situation.

Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.