Monday Night Absurdity Leads To New Complaints About Replacement Referees
Last night's game between Green Bay and Seattle was the latest example of the sub-par officiating of the NFL's replacement referees.
If you happened to have missed Monday Night Football last night, you missed what may have been the worst officiated professional sports game ever:
The play that best defines this N.F.L. season occurred at the end of another game in which replacement officials looked less like actual referees and more like the Keystone Kops. It was bizarre enough to almost defy description.
In summary: the player who caught the winning score clearly pushed off to do so. He did not appear to really catch anything. One referee signaled a touchdown for the hometown Seahawks. Another seemingly signaled an interception for Green Bay.
Amid the bedlam that ensued, the teams retreated to their respective locker rooms. The game was over. Until it wasn’t. Both teams came back onto the field. The Seahawks kicked an extra point, extending their winning margin to 14-12. Celebration No. 2 commenced with some Seahawks half-dressed, all Packers incensed, and most football fans wondering why they ever complained about the officiating before this season.
It was, in a word, absurd. But in this N.F.L. season it was not atypical. It was Monday.
“This is comical to me,” Jon Gruden said on the ESPN broadcast.
He added: “That’s two of the worst calls at the end of a football game that I can remember.”
The Seahawks trailed with eight seconds remaining, fourth-and-10, ball on the 24-yard-line. Their quarterback, Russell Wilson, lofted a pass to the end zone where five Green Bay defenders outnumber two potential targets. Their receiver, Golden Tate, shoved one defender, Sam Shields, out of the way.
Another defender, M. D. Jennings, leapt from behind Tate. The ball appeared to land in Jennings’s hands. Tate’s hands were there, too, as Jennings fell to the ground and pulled the ball to his chest. Tate eventually wrestled the ball away.
The replacements stood there, with this dog pile in front of them, looked at each other, looked at Tate and almost sheepishly raised their hands. The side judge, Lance Easley, now the most popular Easley here since Kenny roamed the Seahawks’ secondary, thrust both arms skyward: touchdown. The back judge, Derrick Rhone-Dunn waved his arms: a touchback, or game over — it remained unclear.
Here’s the video:
This wasn’t the only bad call during last night’s game, just a few players earlier the Packers had fallen victim to a pass interference call that was wrong, and throughout the game there were other examples ranging from pass interference calls that were missed to an improperly called roughing penalty that negated an interception. This followed a weekend of games which, while it was somewhat better than the pathetically bad calls that dominated the NFL’s second week of play, were still pretty bad, not to mention delays of game while these referees who are clearly still unfamiliar with the system they’re working in figured out what the heck they should do on a particular play.
What started out as minor murmuring among during the pre-season about the replacement referees who have been called in to work because of the NFL’s ongoing labor dispute with the union representing NFL officials has turned into a firestorm. All weekend, the problems being created by the referees was all that the announcers were talking about, and now you’ve got owners and players joining in the chorus:
[E]ven Coach Pete Carroll later said of the labor impasse between the N.F.L. and its regular officials, “It’s time for it to be over.”
Carroll’s team, it should be noted, won the game. And while he did not publicly disagree with the call, he agreed with seemingly every other coach, player and pundit across the league in that the replacement officials should be replaced as soon as possible, whatever it takes, however it happens, with the real ones.
On the field afterward, Warren Moon, the Hall of Fame quarterback turned broadcaster, could only shake his head. He, too, had witnessed a game in which the teams combined for 26 points and the officials whistled 24 penalties, for 245 yards, or more than the 238 yards managed by the Seahawks.
“This could be the game that gets a deal done,” he said. “Something like this, on the league’s biggest stage, on Monday night, it’s just not good for the game. You could argue the officials had a hand in the outcome, that they cost Green Bay the game or would have cost the Seahawks.”
Seattle, it should also be noted, endured its share of botched and questionable calls Monday night. The Seahawks racked up as many penalties as points.
But it was the late calls, on the final play especially, that will be remembered. They marred an otherwise magical finish for the home team, football’s equivalent of a game-winning home run, and struck at the very integrity of the sport.
Twitter bubbled over as Monday night bled into Tuesday morning. Several Packers posted expletive-laced rants. Offensive guard T. J. Lang suggested the league fine him and use the money to pay the regular referees and later wrote that “any player/coach in Seattle that really thinks they won that game has zero integrity as a man and should be embarrassed.” Receiver Greg Jennings implored Tate to take a lie-detector test.
The Packers were not alone. Reggie Bush, the Miami running back, posted on Twitter that the “refs single-handedly blew this one.” Drew Brees, the New Orleans quarterback, wrote that “this is NOT the league we’re supposed to represent.” Even Jimmy Connors, the tennis legend, posted that while he loved the N.F.L. he would never bet on the sport again.
“The N.F.L. is a business, and it makes business decisions, but they never should have let this get into the season,” Moon said. “Those guys are in a difficult situation. The N.F.L. thought it could get away with replacement referees. And it’s backfiring on them.”
Logically, one would think that this would lead the NFL to get back to the negotiating table with the officials, get this dispute resolved, and get the professional officials back on the field. After all, we’re at the point now where a clearly blown call has impacted the outcome of a game. Admittedly, that has happened before in professional sports. After all, it was just two years ago that a bad call at first base by Umpire Jim Joyce robbed Armando Galarraga of a Perfect Game and a No-Hitter. On some level, I think, fans are able to accept the idea that referees are human beings and they are going to occasionally make mistakes, even ones that have a major impact on a game. However, this isn’t just one mistake, it was one of many in the same game, and one of many going back to the beginning of the season now. It is, in other words, impacting the integrity of the game.
However, notwithstanding the complaining, there’s one reason that the NFL may still maintain it’s hard line position with the union:
The management viewpoint is that the union was producing inefficiently high quality. There’s no sense investing top dollar in top flight officiating unless the customers actually value it. The volume of complaining about the officiating I saw in my twitter feed last night was both a testament to how poorly the replacement refs did and to how many people were nonetheless watching Monday Night Football. If revenues are going to be just as high working with scabs as working with the trained officials, then there’s no reason for the league to back down.
TV ratings seem to be holding up fine compared to last year but will that trend continue? Or will people start putting their remote controls where their mouths are and turn off the games?
Derek Thompson makes a similar point:
The broad assumption is that this fateful play will hasten the end of the lockout. Maybe it should, and maybe it will. But from a business standpoint, the NFL doesn’t have much more reason to budge than it did 48 hours ago. TV ratings are at record-highs. Sunday night’s ratings were up 8% over a year ago. Viewers are furious, but they’re also viewers, and the fans’ indignation is more fleeting and harder to measure than ratings or ad dollars and TV licensing agreements.
“The NFL has essentially identified its product as being inelastic,” said Eben Jose, a sports business analyst at IBISWorld. “They have no reason to really push a deal with the refs because TV ratings are better than ever.”
Of course, the NFL has a keen interest in protecting its brand before it suffers a backlash (they already fired last night’s referees). But the league is also making a business calculation: If NFL fans keep watching replacement-ref games, how much do they really value the more expensive referees? Why should we pay more money for the same financial returns?
That’s really the rub, isn’t it? If people keep tuning into games in the coming weeks despite the bad calls, or if by some miracle these replacement referees, most of whom come from the lower end of the college football world it appears, start improving, what incentive will the NFL have to settle this. Fans, this is in your hands really, if you want the replacement referees gone, you’ll have to find a way to let the NFL know you’re upset that goes beyond complaining on Twitter while you’re watching the games.