By Tarik El-Bashir
The regular season is about a month away, and there’s no end in sight to the NFL’s two-month old lockout of its officials.
In fact, as of Wednesday, no new bargaining sessions were on the schedule, according to the president of the NFL referees association, Scott Green.
Time is running out and the missteps made by replacement referees are piling up.
Just take Thursday’s preseason opener between the Redskins and Bills.
Late in the first quarter, the Redskins were awarded a touchback before the call was eventually reversed. Replay showed it wasn’t even close – the Bills had downed the ball inside the 5-yard line. The officiating crew was roundly booed by the fans at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“What they’ve ended up doing is getting a lot of Division II and Division III officials,” Green said in an interview Wednesday. “Some have Arena football experience. But the speed of the game is just so different.”
“Even in my rookie year, I was surrounded by six [veteran officials] on the field,” he continued. “To think you can take seven folks with that kind of experience and put them out onto an NFL field and have them work a ballgame has got to be unsettling to the players and the coaches and the fans.”
According to the Associated Press, the blown touchback ruling wasn’t all the officials got wrong.
“There was another miscue at the end of the first half, when the Redskins’ offense was penalized for delay of game with 5 seconds left and Washington out of timeouts,” the AP reported. Referee David “Scott marched off the 5-yard penalty to prepare for the next play, when [Bills Coach Chan] Gailey had a brief conversation with line judge Rondell Taylor at the sideline.
“Taylor quickly ran over to the referee, and Scott announced the half was over because, under NFL rules, 10 seconds had to be run off the clock because the penalty occurred in the final two minutes of a half.”
The rule book calls for the 10-second runoff for some violations in the last minute of a half but delay of game is not on that list.
The problems are only going to become more pronounced once the games count, Green said.
“When the bell rings for the regular season, even if the [replacements] get through the preseason, it’s a whole different ball game opening day,” he said. “When Dallas and New York take the field for that opening game, to think you have seven replacement officials working that game, it’s kind of scary.”
Green said missed calls and misapplied rules also cut to one of the core principals of any professional game: its integrity.
“Potentially integrity is a big issue,” Green said. “What a lot of folks don’t focus on is our rules are very different inside five minutes, inside two minutes, even inside of a minute, they change.”
Examples of questionable calls abounded Thursday. Another came on the game’s only touchdown. Why wasn’t Redskins’ Pierre Garçon flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct when he somersaulted into the end zone? A more experienced referee probably would have whistled Garçon.
“To go get a bunch of folks and train them in classes for six weeks and then expect them to enforce the rules and penalties, that’s going to be an issue,” Green said.
The lockout, of course, is about money. In particular, it’s over officials’ salaries and their pension plan.
Green said he doesn’t understand why the league – and the $9.4 billion in revenue it generated in 2011 – has been so inflexible when it comes to the officials’ bargaining position.
“In NFL terms, when you’re talking about $9.4 billion. That billion with a ‘B’. It’s kind of crazy,” Green said. “We’re not talking 1-percent of those revenues. We’re talking about one-third of 1-percent of those revenues. That’s what would cover this deal, $100,000 per team. And we’re still locked out.”