NFL season descends into farce after lockout of referees

Sep 25, 2012

Replacement refs make a series of blunders but last-gasp touchdown for Seattle caps the lot

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LAST night's NFL game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers saw replacement officials - standing in because of a pay dispute between the league and its regular referees - make a decision which has been widely pilloried as one of the worst calls ever in a professional American football game.

The decision to award Seattle a touchdown in the dying seconds of the game, after it appeared that a Green Bay player had initially intercepted the ball in his own endzone, has caused a firestorm of controversy, not least because the referees verified the score using footage which clearly showed the play to be dubious.

It's the latest in a series of bad decisions by the replacements, who have been called up from the college football ranks because the regular referees have been locked out by the NFL since June over deadlocked contract negotiations. The Seattle gaffe prompted the St Louis Post Dispatch's Bryan Burwell to say: "[They] are in way over their heads, and they can't control the game at this level. With the replacements on the field Sunday, NFL games were teetering on the edge of uncontrolled, borderline riots."

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Gay wrote that shoddy refs are "undermining a young season, and that their mistakes - and even perceived mistakes - [are] dominating the NFL conversation". He recounts a Baltimore Ravens game where a majority of the crowd began to chant 'bullshit' loudly enough for it to be audible on TV coverage.

"These assholes don't know the rules," Drew Magary writes for Deadspin. "They've affected the outcomes of games... they're getting players hurt [and] they're destroying the rhythm of the game." Magary also notes that the quality of the 'scab refs' varies wildly from game to game, so even their inconsistency is inconsistent.

At the heart of the dispute between the NFL and the holdout officials is money - and not much, in the grand scheme of things, according to the Guardian's Nicolaus Mills. "NFL revenues are currently $9.3 billion a year and expected to climb to between $12 and $14 billion. The refs are seeking benefits that they put at $16.5 million over the five years of a new contract."

The NFL should pony up and offer the refs the money, or else "sooner or later a game is going to get out of hand with inexperienced officials in charge" and player safety is going to be compromised.

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It's football, Jim, but not as we know it.