Bob Brookover: It's time to replace the replacement refs

Posted: September 17, 2012

Roger Goodell was the Wizard of Oz after the first week of NFL games.

He urged everyone to pay no attention to the men in the striped shirts by telling USA Today that the replacement officials "did a very credible job, and they're only going to get better."

That, of course, is what Goodell is hoping for, but even the scarecrow knows the NFL commissioner is living a lie.

No man with a brain could witness what took place at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday afternoon and come to the conclusion that "the replacements" did anything close to a credible job. They were, in fact, embarrassingly bad in a variety of ways and if Goodell allows the folly to continue deep into the season he will be eroding his own shaky credibility.

We will not bore you with the issues of the labor strife between the regular NFL Referees Association and the NFL other than to say that a league that makes as much money as Goodell's should be able to find an equitable solution to their differences. It is a little more complicated than officiating issues in other professional leagues because most NFL officials also hold down second jobs, which gives them some negotiating leverage.

But this is not about negotiations. It's about the safety and the integrity of the game. Safety and integrity are the words most often used by the commissioner. He hands down harsh suspensions and fines in the name of safety and integrity.

And then he allows amateurs to police the games. It is like asking unarmed mall cops to enforce martial law.

The league nearly allowed one of the rent-a-cops to officiate his favorite team this weekend. Only after Facebook photos revealed side judge Brian Stropolo in Saints apparel did the NFL realize it was not a good idea for him to work the New Orleans' game against the Carolina Panthers.

We suspect Andy Reid and other NFL head coaches have been warned by the league to recite the party line on the issue of replacement officials. That's what the Eagles coach did after his team's 24-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens that was turned around by a questionable offensive pass interference penalty in which a flag was never thrown.

Had the call not gone the Eagles way, Jacoby Jones would have celebrated a 25-yard touchdown that probably would have sealed a Baltimore victory.

"We don't worry about that," Reid said. "I don't care about that. They're trying to do their job to the best of their ability. They're put in this situation and they're trying to do the best they can. They're getting better as the weeks go on."

We suspect Reid may have felt different if his team had been on the losing end of this tight game. Ravens coach John Harbaugh's tongue may still be bleeding because he had to bite it so hard after the game.

"The challenge for us is figuring out what constitutes what," Harbaugh said. "What constitutes illegal contact and pass interference and I am not really sure."

Harbaugh said he observed chaos on the field and admitted that the officiating played a part in it. Asked if he wanted to elaborate on the officiating chaos, he politely declined.

"Not that I am allowed to say," Harbaugh said.

There were two two-minute warnings in the second half. Reid said he received a reasonable explanation, but the crowd never did. The time of game was more than 31/2 hours and that's because the officials had so many problems spotting the football and interpreting the rules. At one point, the officials spotted the ball in three different places before they finally got it right.

If they are unable to handle those tasks, it leaves you wondering how much else they got wrong. Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams blasted this same exact officiating crew for their inability to interpret what a legal block was after his team lost to the New York Jets in Week 1. Given how much referee Robert Frazer's crew got wrong on Sunday afternoon at the Linc, I have to believe Williams had a valid point.

There were skirmishes throughout Sunday's game at the Linc and a good officiating crew puts a stop to such things immediately. You may allow something like that to happen once, but when it happens again there has to be something more than offsetting penalties.

Reid's point that these replacement officials were "put in this situation" is absolutely invalid. They left their work as officials at a lower level to work jobs in the NFL that they are obviously not qualified to handle. Nobody twisted their arms or threatened their lives.

Even if the coaches cannot say it, the players know it has been amateur hour the first two weeks of the season.

"Was it noticeable today? What about last week," Eagles running back LeSean McCoy said. "The good thing is the other team has to play with the same refs."

It's not good when everybody has to play with bad officials.

"For sure," Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson said when asked if he was ready for the regular officials to return. "It definitely takes away from the momentum and speed of the game."

For the integrity and the safety of the game, the commissioner who so often preaches about those things must find a way to stop the mall cops from policing NFL games. If he doesn't, it is inevitable that something really bad is going to happen.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

 

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