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NFL loses credibility in assigning replacement officials



The “blooper reel” of funny, frustrating, and exasperating NFL replacement official mistakes was very extensive going into Monday Night Football in Week 3.  In one call, the “Fail Mary” smashed the blooper reel with a granite rock of mayhem, bewilderment, chaos, frustration, and questions about the quality of the product the National Football League is putting out on the field.  Some of the most talkative cheerleaders of the NFL were reduced to open-mouthed stammering (ESPN video) after the travesty in Seattle.

Thejump ball that was eventually ruled the winning touchdown (video) giving the Seattle Seahawks a tainted win over the Green Bay Packers has encapsulated all the reasons why the replacement officials are causing the games to break down into disorder, frustration, and anger.  The three problems are a lack of consistency, lack of confidence, and lack of preparation for the big stage.

The replacement officials are inconsistent in their judgement calls.  All weekend long, especially in the marquee games on Sunday and Monday nights, the announcers’, coaches’, and players’ emotions ranged from quizzical, mildly irritated, aghast, to outright angry over the lack of consistency in the replacement officials’ calls.  What is illegal contact?  What is defensive holding?  What is pass interference?  These game-changing, momentum-swinging calls were made seemingly at random this weekend.  That lack of consistency does not serve as a comfort to the coaches, players, and fans.  When the coaches and players aren’t confident that they will get a fair and competent shake when it comes to officiating, it creates disorder and outright chaos, as we saw when Kyle Shannahan and Bill Belichick (video) both lost their composure and exhibited unacceptable behavior after their respective games were over.

Second, the replacement officials, in making their incorrect judgements and rule applications, are not looking confident in doing so.  The replacement officials look lost out on the field.  They look unsure of themselves, confused about how to proceed when a tricky ruling comes up, and when they make a ruling, do not express confidence in that ruling.  Sure, some fans might think Ed Hochuli or Gene Steratore might have a little attitude to their announcements and calls; but have you ever doubted their confidence and conviction behind those calls?  When fans watch the replacements, they get the vibe that “these guys don’t know what they are doing.”  You can be sure the players and coaches caught that vibe long before the fans.  That vibe creates a chaotic product on the field.

Finally, a vast majority of these officials have called games at the low-college level where there are less than 10,000 fans are in the stands and the games do not make national news.  The lights are too bright, the crowd is too loud, and games are too intense for these replacement officials.  They are intimidated.  Almost all of the replacements have never been booed by 100,000 fans, cursed by a NCAA coach who is revered as a god by his home state, or had his call condemned on national television — all crucibles that forge a NFL-ready official.  The replacement officials are simply not ready emotionally, mentally, or in experience to take the field and officiate NFL games.

Seriously, after three weeks of egregious errors from the replacement officials, how can anyone have confidence in them, in the product on the field, or in the owners and commissioner Roger Goodell if and/or when the replacements take the field in Week 4?

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"