06-09-2012, 12:36 PM
If the NFL and the NFL Referees' Association can't come to terms on a new agreement -- and it certainly seems that they won't for a good while -- how will that affect the games? We assume the league will bring replacement refs more professional than the guy who asked Jerry Rice for his autograph before a game in 2001 (true story, via Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times), the last time there was an impasse between the league and its officials. NFL Director of Recruiting Officials Ron Baynes* recently sent a memo to scouts to help in finding officials who "look the part," but the parameters seem a bit weird. Among those qualities required are that the officials have "recently retired from a successful career in College officiating and [are] still physically able to officiate at a high level of competency, [or] lower division college officials, professional league officials and semi-professional league officials whose window of opportunity for advancement has pretty much closed but who have the ability to work higher levels but just got overlooked." In addition, prospective officials must subject themselves to a "rigorous training program," pass a background check and come with a doctor's note (no, really) stating that they're up the rigors of professional officiating. So ... in other words, the NFL could wind up with a bunch of Arena League and UFL castoffs, and/or the guys who were so bad in the Pac-12 a couple years ago, they couldn't even pass muster with noted officiating apologist, former *conference "interim coordinator of officiating," and current "consultant" Mike Pereira. A scary thought, to be sure. And since officials were recently tasked with the additional responsibility of making sure that concussed players get the hack off the field and stay there (since the NFL doesn't seem to want to put independent neurologists on every field of play), how is locking the real refs out an example of the player safety mandates Roger Goodell won't shut up about? In addition, every head official and crew comes with their own tendencies and scouting reports -- there are weeks when you know you'll be able to get away with more, and weeks in which you'd better watch your Ps and Qs, because Mr. Ticky-tack has the whistle. For the players, there are varying degrees of concern. "To tell you the truth, until (Tuesday) I didn't even know that was going on," Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford told the Detroit Free Press this week. "I had no idea about it. We're going to play games, that's all I know. Whoever is out there reffing is going to be out there reffing. Obviously, the guys that we know and have been within the past, it would be nice to have them out there. But if not we'll have to adjust and keep moving." Of course, the Lions might want different people in place -- they were the fourth-most penalized team last year, and their reputation for on-field buffoonery certainly precedes them at times. Former Houston Texans offensive tackle Eric Winston, who now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs (the NFL's fifth-most penalized team in 2011), was a bit more aggrieved about the prospect of replacement refs. "I think players will start to care once the season gets closer," Winston told NFL.com's Jeff Darlington on Wednesday . "What they can do about it, I don't know. But I'd be shocked if it doesn't get resolved by Week 1. I think that's probably why it's not on a lot of team's radar."