You're watching an NFL game. There's a jump ball in the end zone, and two players are wrestling for control of the ball. Two referees look into the pile to discern which player controls the ball. What happens next?
Well, if this were any other year, with experienced officials who know the NFL's rulebook and procedures for handling these types of calls, there would be a conference. The two officials would get together, most likely with the head referee, discuss what each of them saw, and one call would be made which was agreed upon based on the best interpretation of the situation.
But this is 2012, when we have referees practically pulled off the street, who do not know standard procedures for making difficult calls. This is how we end up seeing one ref signal touchdown and the other stop the clock, presumably in preparation for signaling a touchback. But this is not their fault.
In 2012, phantom pass interference and holding calls seem to be called on nearly every play. Sidney Rice can mug Sam Shields and drag him to the turf from behind, but draw an interference call against Shields. Kam Chancellor can attack the ball at what appears to be precisely the time it arrives at a Packer receiver's hands and get flagged for arriving early. Offensive lines are holding defenders on every play because they know they won't be called for it.
But again, this is not the replacement referees' fault.
It is not their fault that the NFL owners locked out their normal referees. It is not their fault that the players they're officiating are far bigger and far faster than anyone they have seen in their lower levels of college football. It is not their fault that they don't know the NFL's rulebook or the league's replay processes. Ultimately, the replacement referees have been placed in an unsavory situation, one where they can be nothing but a detriment to the game. They are not respected by the fans, the coaches, or worst of all the players. This is where player safety, the cause that has been championed by Commissioner Roger Goodell over the past few years, is threatened.
When a player does not fear penalization for an illegal play, he is far more likely to commit an action that would pose potential harm to another. See Brandon Browner's mugging of Greg Jennings last night as evidence. Is there any chance that he would have done that if normal officials were on the field? The league claims to try to protect defenseless players, especially receivers. You can't get much more defenseless than a player running out his route, with the ball thrown to the other side of the field. But yet Browner delivered a Niklas Kronwall-esque hit to Jennings, knocking him flat on his back before getting into a wrestling match with him in the end zone.
While this occurred because the replacement referees were calling the game, it is not their fault.
Roger Goodell (on behalf of the owners) claims to care about player safety, and yet he advocated for an 18-game regular season in the last CBA negotiations and has chosen to institute Thursday night games all throughout the entire season. He pushes for changes to the rules and penalties of the game to protect defenseless players, but then sits idly by while replacement officials consistently lose control of games and mis-administer those penalties.
Ultimately, Goodell and the owners don't care. We still lap up football like a thirsty dog on a hot day. We consume it in record numbers, pumping billions of dollars into the owners' pockets, and by extension, Goodell's. The worst part is that there's no sign of us stopping. Will not watching the games on TV do anything? Probably not. Will not going to the games make any difference? Honestly, if you have tickets, it's already a sunk cost, and you're not going to just let the tickets go unused. Can we boycott the league's sponsors? That seems the most reasonable route, but requires people to commit to not consuming entire categories of products.
Roger Goodell's hypocrisy is the reason the NFL is in its current state. Shame on you, Roger, for letting power and money cloud your judgment and making the current state of the NFL a mockery of the game that I grew up to know and love.