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Reffed to death?

Refereeing errors are seriously damaging the NFL, says Alex

Alex Ferguson Posted 26th September 2012 view comments

As Major League Baseball winds its way towards the postseason (as I write, Atlanta has just clinched a wild card spot), NASCAR is bang in the middle of its own postseason (Jimmie Johnson -him again - leads), the NFL could really do with getting its refereeing sorted out: preferably before the post-season.

Take Monday night's debacle (that's the only way to put it and believe me, I've looked) involving Seattle and Green Bay. It looked for all the world that Green Bay's M.D. Jennings had come down with the interception from Russell Wilson's 'Hail Mary', but the referees signaled for a touchdown with Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate seemingly with hands on the ball too.

Replacement refs award a controversial touchdown to Seattle

Replacement refs award a controversial touchdown to Seattle

In fact, only one of the referees signalled for a touchdown, and the other signaled for a touchback. They couldn't even make up their minds on the spot what had happened.

That debacle didn't just damage Green Bay's hopes of getting to the Super Bowl next February, it damaged the league and its reputation.

A Wisconsin Senator tweeted out Roger Goodell's direct line, which was followed by a Green Bay player doing exactly the same thing. According to US media, 70,000 messages were dumped on the NFL's answer machines, all of them complaining about the replacement refs, or pleading with Mr Goodell and the owners who employ him to sort out the deal. That's right: 70,000.

Culprits

But while everyone and his wife is blaming Roger Goodell for the incident, why isn't everyone having a go at the league's 31 owners, too?

That debacle didn't just damage Green Bay's hopes of getting to the Super Bowl next February, it damaged the league and its reputation.

Alex Ferguson
Quotes of the week

The owners, who own the NFL, have a lot to answer for. After all, it is them who have voted not to give the referees the pay increase they want, increase their pension pot, or help their cause in any other way despite having a league that brings in a jaw-dropping $9bn in revenue. Yes, we agree that the league is trying to cut costs, but at the cost of the refs and possible injury?

The problem for the owners is ultimately, the bad decisions hurt their franchises. Let's say that Owner A owns a team that is 2-7 to start the year. Regardless of whether all seven of those losses have been due to incredibly poor officiating, the fans will not want to see such a poor franchise, and stay away from the stadium. Heck, would you really want to see your team not only lose, but get short-changed by replacement refs who don't even know what pass interference is in the process?

So why can't the owners step in, and speak to Roger Goodell and force his hand. They should say: "Roger, it's time we made a deal with the NFL Referees Association, and we might have to make sacrifices. Our league and our teams within it have become a joke, our fans are leaving the stadiums and not bothering to come back, and they are turning off the TVs. Never mind us blacking out the local fans who don't go to the games, they are blacking us out."

Consequences

If the owners don't come forward, that's what will happen. The fans will go because they can't stand another awfully-reffed game. At some point they will say: "I've had enough of this." Or worse, the players will simply get together and start taking knees in solidarity during games. The time clocks will wander through to 0-0, the media will get incredibly angry, and the boos will continue to ring out. The firestorm will hurt the brand, and the Bowl in New Orleans will go from 'Super' to 'Toilet' in one fell swoop.

And the players themselves are furious. Packers offensive linesman Josh Sitton tweeted: "The NFL needs to get the refs back [before] we strike and they make no money!"

TJ Lang criticised the NFL and said: "Fine me and use the money to pay the refs." And Lang continued his rage on a Detroit radio show: "Whatever it takes, it's just a total embarrassment to everybody watching the game, the players in the game, it's not fun to be part of something like that ... If it keeps going on, it's going to get ugly."

The two Packers players aren't the only NFL stars out there tweeting their rage. And when the players are angry, their union representative, DeMaurice Smith, is angry. And when Mr Smith is angry, all hell is about to break loose.

Mr Smith said in a statement to the US media: "The decision by the NFL owners to lockout the referees jeopardizes your health and safety. This decision to remove over 1,500 years of collective experience has simply made the workplace less safe.

"It is the NFL's duty to provide a workplace that is as safe as possible. The League will want fans, the media and sponsors to talk only about 'the product' on the field. We are not product. While the focus today is about a blown call and the outcome of one football game, our focus as a family of players is and will remain squarely on workplace safety."

In other words: As soon as someone gets injured after a bad call, then the union's going to get together and the owners may well have another strike on their hands.

And despite having billions and billions of dollars, the owners won't want another firestorm.

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