After three weeks of using NFL replacement referees during the regular season, the National Football League is under tremendous pressure to settle the labor dispute with its officials. The Green Bay at Seattle Monday Night Football matchup had to be a nightmare experience for Commissioner Roger Goodell. There were a few notable blown calls during the game, and the ruling of a touchdown that gave Seattle the win was a misinterpretation of the catch rule.
My NBA Experience
I have more than 20 years of experience refereeing basketball games at different levels, from junior high all the way to the NBA. To clarify … I was never an NBA referee, but while living in Houston, I was asked to officiate a few Houston Rocket scrimmages.
My comfort level is with Division I collegiate games, such as Wyoming vs. Colorado State or Texas-Arlington at Sam Houston State. While the games can be tough to officiate at this level, my skills have improved to the point at which I can hold my own in these games.
Differently, I remember walking onto the floor to work the Houston Rocket scrimmage. When I observed the 7 ft. tall Hakeem Olajuwon catch the ball and make a quick move to the basket, I was surprised by his agility. While I had officiated big men in the past, none of them had this level of skill.
What is My Point?
The NFL replacement officials are not rookies. Most have many years of officiating experience, but at a lower level. I’m certain that many of them are in awe when watching the speed of the players. The game itself also moves much faster, and the consequences when making a mistake are bigger than missing the same call in a JUCO football game.
There were times when I would work nearly a month of Division I collegiate games before a small college assignment appeared on my schedule. I quickly observed that the lower level game was easier to work. It almost seemed to move in slow motion. I was used to the fast-pace of the highly-skilled players.
Respect Makes a Difference
One important aspect in officiating is having the respect of coaches and players. I’ve known some referees that are average, but they have two decades of experience. Through longevity, they have gained the respect from coaches.
The replacement referees have not gained respect, which means that coaches and players are constantly complaining about calls, even the ones they get right. The barrage of complaints makes it hard to focus on officiating the game. In some cases, they are distracted to the point that a call is missed. Once officials show they can be intimidated, the coaches and players are in control of the game, which causes anarchy.
The NFL replacement referees have a tough job, but they did sign up for it. My guess is that the NFL leadership team underestimated the experience and knowledge of its officials. Refereeing at the highest level requires competent and confident referees who understand the spirit and intent of the rules. Experienced officials are less likely to making glaring mistakes, such as those we are witnessing with the temporary refs.
The NFL put a low priority on the importance of its officiating, and today Commissioner Goodell is looking for a workable solution that will allow him to save face.