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Robison: NFL referees need to return now (Sept. 27)

By Matt Robison | Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Never has a group had more bargaining power in a contract negotiation in the sporting world. The NFL referees have the league in a virtual stranglehold. After Monday Night Football’s absolute debacle, the league has no choice but to bring back the veteran crew.

Honestly, I expected a deal to be made Tuesday morning. Obviously, that did not happen. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the rest of the league officials have to realize what is at stake. For perhaps the first time in the history of the league, the credibility of the NFL was seriously brought to question. Sure, there have been debates before. What exactly constitutes a helmet-to-helmet hit, rather than a shoulder to the chin? Why does the league seem to protect quarterbacks so much? Today, those problems are all minor.

On Monday night, the Seahawks pulled a victory from the jaws of defeat – or from the hands of M.D. Jennings. Now, I won’t go into the specifics of the play. We have all seen the replay dozens of times. But the fact of the matter is that a bad call cost the Packers a victory, plain and simple. When the referees – not the players or the coaches – can directly determine the outcome of a game, the game becomes fundamentally flawed.

When thousands of people are tweeting and posting Facebook statuses that the NFL has become a joke, that is a problem. When you can tell by the tone of a coach or a player’s voice that they know they won on a bad call, as was the case with Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson after the game, that is a problem. When former players are genuinely concerned for the direction of the league, as was the case with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, that is a problem.

It is time for the NFL to return to sanity. In the coming weeks, division rivals will be squaring off and playoff positioning will already be at stake. Indeed, every regular season game matters in the NFL. Therefore, the league cannot waste another week. There could be genuine concern that if the referee negotiations carry on further into the season that this season will be permanently marred. People will look back in the annals of NFL history and mark the 2012-13 season with disdain. There will be a virtual asterisk next to the Super Bowl winner’s name in the record books.

Almost every other league has experienced something similar. Baseball Hall of Fame writers take a special eye to players who posted their best numbers during the steroid era. When two slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famers – Cal Ripken Jr. and Kirby Puckett – were expected to be the first consensus elections to the Hall, some writers abstained, their reasoning being no players from the steroid era can be trusted.

Now, it may sound like I’m overestimating the impact of one bad call at the end of the game. But I don’t believe I am. The calls are not going to get better on their own. In fact, there will be even greater attention paid to every bad call and fans will react even more violently to future mistakes. The integrity of the game is in flux.

The solution is simple. I just don’t want our beloved Golden Tate to be the everlasting symbol of the day the NFL died.