Free football, please
* At the time of publication, the referees had not yet reached a decision.
NFL replacement referees are still employed, games are still being played, fans are still buying jerseys and game tickets and Americans are still watching the games on television.
Because interests in the league and TV ratings haven’t changed since the referee’s lockout began, NFL owners weren’t too concerned about the dispute until recently.
Since the recent string of blown calls this weekend, the two sides have began talking more frequently and seriously.
Analysts have been taking these botched calls and are making them the lead story for each game, rather than the actual outcome, mainly because the calls the officials are making is starting to affect the outcome of games.
Take for example the 49ers game against the Vikings this weekend.
In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game, San Francisco was given four timeouts and two extra challenges, mainly due to the fact that the referees were unaware of the actual rules of NFL football, but also because 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was able to push the refs around and got them to make incorrect calls.
Although he had used the team’s third and final timeout, Harbaugh was able to challenge a play where Vikings running back Toby Gerhart was called down by contact.
The officials allowed Harbaugh to challenge the play, and it was eventually ruled that Gerhart had fumbled the ball and the 49ers had recovered. Because Harbaugh won the “challenge,” he also got a timeout back.
San Francisco ended up using that timeout again when the Vikings regained possession, and Gerhart fumbled once again.
Harbaugh challenged that it was the 49ers’ ball, but he was unsuccessful.
Thankfully, this giant blunder by the replacement refs ended up not affecting the outcome of the game, but it well could have.
The issue came to a head Monday night, when the Packers lost a game because of a blown call.
Seahawks QB threw it up in the end zone on the final play of the game, and although it appeared that a Packers defender caught the ball, it was ruled that WR Golden Tate caught it, and the Seahawks won the game.
Social media exploded with pictures of the referees making two different calls on the field, and tweets from players criticizing the league.
Some fans are blaming the owners, rather than the referees, and believe that it’s not necessarily the refs’ fault because the owners are the ones arguing with the officials, but the replacements signed up for this job, and they need to own up to the fact that most of them aren’t cut out to work an NFL game.
Defenders of the replacements are also saying that the regular referees make bad calls, which is completely true, but those bad calls don’t happen nearly as often, and when they were wrong, the refs would own up to the calls after the game.
Most importantly, the regular officials would never allow players and coaches to influence when penalty flags are or aren’t thrown.
For example, in Sunday’s Cardinals-Eagles game, Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho chased down Eagles quarterback Mike Vick, forcing Vick to throw the ball away on third down.
Acho began gesturing and yelling at the ref nearest the sideline, and several seconds after the play has finished, the referee threw a flag for intentional grounding.
What’s almost worse is that the penalty was for 20 yards and a loss of downs, which is about five yards too long.
That’s not necessarily an excuse for Patriot’s Coach Bill Belichick to chase down and pull on a ref, or for Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to run down the field yelling at one, but it’s a sign that Roger Goodell and the NFL owners need to step in.
If Goodell truly cares about the integrity of the game and the NFL brand, he will work as hard as possible to make sure the referees sign on the dotted lines and get back to working games as soon as possible.