September 25, 2012

The Replacement Refs' Impossible Situation

Okay, so this picture is old and that's a legit NFL referee.  But I had forgotten about this and seeing Kenneth Darby get lit up by a ref made my day.
     If you're a fan of NFL football, or even just live within the United States, you know that the NFL's usual referees have been temporarily replaced while the refs and the league work out a new contract.  The replacement refs come from many different levels of experience ranging from high school games to lingerie football.  Yet these officials all have one thing in common.  Everybody thinks they're doing a terrible job.

     I'm not convinced of that though.  I think this situation is more about the Kobe Bryant factor than actual officiating.  You know how everyone thinks Kobe is "clutch", so when he makes a late basket we use that to reinforce our belief, and when he misses we disregard it since everybody misses at some point and that doesn't reflect who he is.  But when you look at the stats, Bryant is around the league average in late-game situations.  The replacement refs are in the same situation, but in reverse.  People expect the replacements to be terrible, so we focus on the mistakes that they make and don't notice the calls they get right.  There was no way they were ever going to be accepted by the general public, and that's not fair to them.  So to try to make it up to them a little bit, let me defend them against three of the main charges against them.

1.  They make the dumbest mistakes.

     I'll admit the new refs have made some gaffes that I would never expect the usual officials to make, like not knowing certain rules of the game.  But the replacements have taken some heat for judgement calls as well, many of which could have happened no matter who was in charge.  I know Ed Hochuli has been involved in one or two boneheaded decisions.  Super Bowl XL involved the best referees in the game and is still regarded as one of the worst officiated games ever.  Fans aren't going to be any happier with the normal officials than they are with the current ones.  Hatred for referees is just part of the sports culture.

2.  Games last 9 minutes longer on average.

     What world-altering thing do these people think they were going to do in those 9 minutes?  Sit on the couch and watch the postgame show?  Use the bathroom?  These referees aren't used to calling an NFL game.  That's just a fact.  I'd rather they take the time to get together and make the right call than hurriedly make the wrong one.

3.  They're endangering the players.

     This is my favorite bad argument.  First of all, when some linebacker is going in for a crushing hit on a receiver, he's not thinking about who the referees are.  He's just going to make the play regardless, and if he gets a flag, so be it.

     But my real issue with this allegation is the sudden regard by the media for player safety.  Remember all the way back in 2010 and 2011, during the height of player safety rules and offensive bias, when everyone just wanted the officials to "let them play"?  Now we have this new batch of referees that calls far fewer penalties than their counterparts, that "lets them play", and how does everyone react?  With a big "thank you"?  No, suddenly everyone is worried about player safety and pass interference no-calls.  It's like they just want to complain for the sake of complaining.  That's what really bothers me.  Decide what you want, then stick with it.  You don't get both sides.  So when the referee lockout finally ends, I better not hear any complaining.

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