The NFL and the NFL Referees Association negotiated in N.Y. last night until close to 9:00pm ET "with a federal mediator present," but talks "broke off with substantial differences remaining on several key issues," according to Peter King of SI.com. The two sides "didn't schedule any further negotiations" (SI.com, 9/24). The AP's Barry Wilner noted sources said that it is “uncertain whether progress was made ... or when further negotiations would take place” (AP, 9/23). However, in Boston, Greg Bedard noted two sources “conveyed optimism that a deal could be struck as early as this week.” That may have to do with “the fact that if common ground isn’t found this week, the lockout might last the season.” What the deal “comes down to is the pension plan,” as the NFL wants to “convert the referees from a defined pension plan to a 401(k), as it has for a majority of full-time employees.” Bedard: “We’re coming to a tipping point. If the officials don’t strike a deal this week, we could be looking at a scenario where the NFL moves away from this current group of officials and starts hiring a new crop as soon as the college season ends” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/23).
OPEN SEASON: The NFLPA Exec Committee yesterday posted an open letter to NFL owners strongly criticizing their decision to use replacement refs. The letter states that the decision to lock out the officials “has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity. ... The headlines are embarrassing.” The committee adds, “It is lost on us as to how you allow a Commissioner to cavalierly issue suspensions and fines in the name of player health and safety yet permit the wholesale removal of the officials that you trained and entrusted to maintain that very health and safety. ... As players, we see this game as more than the 'product' you reference at times. ... Bring back the officials immediately” (THE DAILY).
MISSED CALLS: Several games yesterday were marked by questionable calls from the referees, and USA TODAY’s Gary Mihoces writes, “It was confusing out there with the replacement officials Sunday” (USA TODAY, 9/24). In Minneapolis, Dan Wiederer notes the end of yesterday’s 49ers-Vikings game was “muddled with confusion and a mind-boggling misinterpretation of the rules” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/24). Replacement official Ken Roan said that his officiating crew was “wrong to award” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh two challenges in the final minutes of the game (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/24). Fox' Tony Siragusa said of the officiating in 49ers-Vikings game, “That’s the worst I’ve ever seen” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/24). Meanwhile, the N.Y. POST notes Ravens fans “serenaded the fill-in refs -- and millions of viewers tuning in on NBC -- with a chorus of ‘bulls---’” during last night's game against the Patriots (N.Y. POST, 9/24). NBC's Al Michaels said, "That's the loudest manure chant I've ever heard” (“Sunday Night Football,” NBC, 9/23). SPORTING NEWS’ David Steele writes, “If the madness inside M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday night was not the tipping point of Scab Ref-Gate, then there never will be one” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/24). ESPN's Trent Dilfer said, “It’s at a tipping point. ... It’s getting away from them. We needed this signature game where it was decided because of these calls, I think really, to make everybody say, ‘Okay, enough is enough’” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 9/23).
GOING INSIDE THE GAME: With two minutes left in the first quarter of Patriots-Ravens, NBC's Michaels and Cris Collinsworth started to question some of the refs' calls. After a holding call, Collinsworth said, “OK. I don’t know.” Michaels, sounding frustrated, said, “Yeah, I’m with you.” Then, shortly after, the referees called an offensive pass interference and Collinsworth said, “These officials are either going to get the game under control, start calling it tightly or it’s going to be wild. It’s going to be fun to watch. ... This is crazy already. Already, this is going to be crazy. You can just tell it.” Michaels: “You’ve seen both coaches with high blood pressure already in the first quarter.” After a defensive holding call late in the game, Michaels doubted the call and asked Collinsworth, “You tell me.” Collinsworth responded in disbelief: “Oh wow. Wow.” Michaels was heard laughing. Collinsworth added, “Guys, keep negotiating will you?” After the game, Collinsworth said, “It was among the most bizarre game I’ve seen” (“Sunday Night Football,” NBC, 9/23).
GROWING CONCERN: ESPN.com’s John Clayton noted although the replacement officials “didn't blow a game, they keep getting closer to that happening.” Clayton, listing the causes of concern, wrote, “Length of games. Mechanics. Safety issues. The replacement ref problems continue with no end to the lockout in sight” (ESPN.com, 9/23). ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert wrote, “This joke can’t end soon enough” (ESPN.com, 9/23). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes replacement refs “keep finding new ways to bungle calls and, potentially, games” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 9/24). ESPN BOSTON’s Jackie MacMullan wrote it is “impossible not to be fixated on the replacement officials.” It is like “watching a grisly 20-car pile-up.” It is “so hideous and unseemly you find yourself unable to divert your gaze from the wreckage.” Every week fans “think it can't get any worse, and every single week it does.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has taken the league and “sullied it so thoroughly that your players are wondering aloud how they can continue” (ESPNBOSTON.com, 9/23). CBS’ Shannon Sharpe said of the replacement refs, “They’re killing the tempo and the flow of the game.” CBS’ Bill Cowher added, “The inconsistencies are what is creating the frustration” (“The NFL Today,” CBS, 9/23). In Green Bay, Pete Dougherty wrote, “The replacement officials haven’t been an epic disaster, but they’ve been more than bad enough to reflect the league’s indifference to its customers, especially those that have to sit through games at the stadium” (GREEN BAY PRESS GAZETTE, 9/22).
TREATED LIKE SUBSTITUTE TEACHERS: In Boston, Dan Shaughnessy writes, “There is no flow to the game with these officials. There seems to be a dustup after every whistle.” NFL players this month are “like high school students taking advantage of substitute teachers.” They are “pushing the limits” and “pushing one another.” Sometimes they “even shove the officials” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/24). Fox' Tim Ryan said of the officiating, “It's garbage. It's terrible. It's awful. These are guys like substitute teachers, and nobody respects them." CBS’ Rich Gannon: “This is not a problem that's going to get better anytime soon. It's not like they're suddenly going to figure it out. It's inevitable that it's going to cost somebody a game." Fox' Mike Pereira, the former NFL/VP Officiating, said, “This is just not the same NFL game that we're used to seeing. It's sad. The league doesn't want the games to be played like this” (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 9/23). Pereira writes on FOXSPORTS.com the replacement refs “don't know the NFL rules, they don't know how to enforce what they don't know and they don't know how to manage the games.” They are “doing the best they can in a very difficult situation.” Pereira writes, “For all of those who say the integrity of the game isn't being compromised, I disagree” (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/24). In Illinois, Barry Rozner wrote under the header, “Referee Fiasco An NFL Disgrace For Goodell” (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 9/23).
LEAGUE TURNING A BLIND EYE? One locked-out official said that league execs “knew that last week had been a disaster.” In N.Y., Judy Battista notes the NFLRA had “already reached out to the league before then, but there was little doubt in the official’s mind that when the sides finally met in the middle of last week, there was a renewed urgency to end an embarrassment of the league’s own making.” The official said, “They felt the first weekend was passable, a lot of mistakes but not visible, high-profile mistakes. If they were to have another weekend like last weekend, I don’t think they could maintain it like that. There were a lot of safety penalties that were not called. Fortunately, nobody got hurt.” Battista notes the NFL “escaped Sunday relatively unscathed, but that doesn’t make this standoff any less irritating.” The NFL is “used to winning ... and it counted on fans to largely ignore what the league considered just another hard-nosed business negotiation.” But the league “underestimated the audience and overestimated the replacements” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/24).
SUNDAY NIGHT MELTDOWN: The BOSTON GLOBE's Shaughnessy notes Patriots coach Bill Belichick after last night's 31-30 loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium "reached out and grabbed at one of the officials as everyone was coming off the field." Belichick after the game was asked about the officiating and said, "You'll have to talk to the officials about the way they called the game. Talk to the league about it." When asked if he thought he would be fined for grabbing an official, Belichick answered, "No" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/24). YAHOO SPORTS’ Dan Wetzel wrote Goodell "needs to do more to protect the replacement refs he hired to call the games and stop what has become a distracting spectacle.” The league “needs a much stronger and more public push for decorum when discussing calls during games.” Belichick grabbing an official “served as the culmination of a heated day of interaction in the NFL, an inevitable act due to the way the replacement referees have been handled and accepted by the league, its players and coaches” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/23). NBC’s Michaels said of Belichick’s action, “Oh, boy, that’s a few bucks.” Collinsworth added, “I can’t believe Bill Belichick just did that” ("SNF," NBC, 9/23). Meanwhile, Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh was “penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct in the fourth quarter.” Harbaugh said that he was “trying to get the official’s attention to call a timeout, but it came off as bumping him” (BALTIMORESUN.com, 9/24). In Boston, Zuri Berry writes, “This was a tough one for all three sides. There's no way the league, despite Belichick's bump and Ravens coach John Harbaugh's pestering, can excuse away the performance of the scabs. It was an atrocity for a national television audience to stomach” (BOSTON.com, 9/24). Elsewhere, Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan yesterday "followed the refs as they were going into their locker room and had some choice words" after the team's loss to the Bengals at FedExField (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/23).
FINE PREDICAMENT: ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter cited a source as saying that the NFL “plans to fine” Broncos coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio “approximately $20,000 apiece for the way they publicly criticized officials in last Monday night's game” against the Falcons. The source said that the NFL “even called the Georgia Dome at halftime on Monday night to get the message to Fox and Del Rio to tone down their act in the second half” (ESPN.com, 9/23).