The NFL office yesterday sent a memo to all 32 teams with an alert that the ‘12 season “will begin with replacement officials in place,” according to Albert Breer of NFL.com. NFL Exec VP/Football Operations Ray Anderson said negotiations between the league and the NFL Referees' Association remain "deadlocked." The sides have been “at a standstill since the league locked out the NFLRA in early June.” Anderson in the memo said that there “remains a ‘considerable gap’ in negotiations and no discussions currently are scheduled.” The replacement officials have “come under heavy fire throughout the preseason, with multiple players questioning their ability to institute the rules and enforce the NFL's player safety policies” (NFL.com, 8/29). Anderson said the league is “committing to the replacement officials for as long as we need them to perform their services." Anderson: "It’s a week-by-week basis, but they are prepared to go the distance if required.” He added, “We are going to deploy the best we have available out there. We think they have gotten better week in and week out and they will continue to get better. There’s no perfect world in officiating, no one’s going to be completely satisfied. ... But we’re very comfortable that the group of officials that will be out there beginning next week will do a good job for us" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 8/29). Patriots Owner Robert Kraft said of the league memo, “It basically told the clubs that the league is going to start the season with the officials that have worked the preseason on the field, and currently the state of negotiations with past officials is nothing is happening. Beyond that, it’s hard to comment much because negotiations are taking place, when there are negotiations, between the league and the Referees Association. The league is empowered to do what’s in the best interest of the league. Hopefully at some point, (a deal) gets done. If it doesn’t, we’re going to start with replacement officials" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/30).
NFL PROVIDING HELP: The NFL said that it would “use procedures similar to those used during postseason games to help support the replacements, as they continue to learn on the job.” In N.Y., Judy Battista noted an officiating supervisor will be “in the replay booth at each game to help ensure correct penalty enforcement, administration of rules not involving fouls, operation of the game and play clocks and game administration.” He will be “able to communicate directly with the alternate official on the sidelines,” but he will “not be involved in judgments made by officials on the field” (NYTIMES, 8/30). USA TODAY’s Bell & Corbett note both sides maintain that they are “willing to negotiate but haven’t met since late July.” Bell & Corbett: "This could get interesting, with the 136 replacements who have worked the preseason games to mixed reviews -- and with some high-profile gaffes -- set to call the real games” (USA TODAY, 8/30). ESPN's John Clayton reported the locked-out officials are "hoping for ... a lot of bad mistakes that cause games to at least be tainted in their view -- coaches getting angry about it, players getting angry about it." Clayton: "From the NFL’s standpoint they want to show the leverage that, ‘Hey, these guys can do a decent job’” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 8/29). SB Nation's Bomani Jones said, “All you have to do is talk about how bad the replacement referees are. The best thing that can happen for the NFL is if people do not think about them, if the games go relatively smoothly” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 8/29).
DEAL NEEDS TO GET DONE: In N.Y., Gary Myers writes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should “lock negotiators in a closet and not let them out until this is done.” It is “hard to rationalize running a $9 billion-a-year business and not getting a deal done with part of the support staff.” Myers: “For the sake of the game, Goodell must put an end to this before the awful officiating overtakes the game and star players get hurt" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/29). The San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami said, “I can’t imagine it’s worth this to a $9 billion revenue league" (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 8/29). In L.A., Sam Farmer writes the league has “blown a major call.” The move means games “will be in the hands of officials with dramatically less experience, many of whom came from the high school and college ranks.” It is the “equivalent of slapping discount tires on a Ferrari.” Farmer: “The problem will be overly timid officials, not ones who are too aggressive with their calls. It won't be a shower of yellow flags, but flags that are seemingly sewn into pockets” (LATIMES.com, 8/29). NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said, “My concern is the referees, the replacement refs, get too cautious. In other words, the easiest way for them to disappear is to keep the flag in their pocket. I think even the players are starting to get a little sense of that right now, maybe they can push the envelope just a little bit more than what they’ve done in the past. If that’s the case, maybe we get games that are a little more aggressive than what we’d see otherwise” (WASHINGTON POST, 8/30). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said the NFL should be “embarrassed,” as the people who run it are "so arrogant." Wilbon: "This is the most powerful, important, impactful, richest entertainment industry in America, and for them to do this for fractions of pennies on the dollar, this is ludicrous” (“PTI,” ESPN, 8/29).
MAKING THE RIGHT CALL: In N.Y., Mark Cannizzaro writes under the header, “Replacement Refs Are The Right Call.” The “smart money” is on fans “not noticing whether there are regular or replacement refs on the field.” Giants WR Ramses Barden after the Patriots-Giants game last night said, “It’s rare that referees are responsible for a win or a loss.” Giants G Chris Snee said, “They’re under a microscope right now, so every mistake they make people are jumping all over them. It’s a tough situation for them, but they’re doing a great job.” Cannizzaro writes the regular referees are “entitled to go after whatever they feel they deserve, so this is not about condemning them for not agreeing to what the NFL is offering.” But, based on “the fact that NFL refereeing is a part-time job and it pays a lot more than the average full-time employee makes in other -- more important -- walks of life (nurses, cops, firemen), it’s difficult to muster up a lot of sympathy for them” (N.Y. POST, 8/30).
LOSING CONTROL ON THE FIELD: NFL Network's Kevin Harlan and Mike Mayock discussed the replacement refs during last night's Patriots-Giants preseason game. Mayock said it is a "shame” that the NFL and the officials cannot come to an agreement. During a long break in the action when the officials were sorting out a penalty, Mayock said, “Every coach and ever player in the league wants the regular refs. This is a prime example right here. We’ve got coaches on the field, nobody seems to taking control.” The following is an excerpt of their discussion:
Harlan, after a confusing explanation from the referee describing a penalty, “Did you write that down?”
Mayock: “I didn’t expect a whole lot from the replacement officials in the preseason and I don’t think we’ve gotten a whole lot. We want the regular refs back. ... But at the end of the day, this is supposed to be a high-quality NFL product and we’ve got to get it there.”
Harlan: “We’ve seen stalemates like this in other sports ... and what they have found in the history of these kinds of things is that the original offer doesn’t change that much.”
A lengthy delay ensued as the officials discussed what the penalties were and how to assess them. Harlan said once they set the ball for play, “I think they got it right and in the end, that’s what we’re all hoping” (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 8/29).