|Replacement refs could be a disaster. (Getty Images)|
If Sunday's Hall of Fame Game between the Cardinals and Saints is anything like the Jaguars' Thursday practice session, it could portend very bad things for the NFL this season. We're not talking about players here, either, but the officials responsible for keeping order and enforcing the rules.
As it stands, the NFL has locked out its officials, which means replacement officials are a very real possibility. NFL VP of football operations Ray Anderson confirmed on Wednesday that these replacements would be working this weekend in Canton, and it'll be the first time we'll see what they can (or can't) do on a national stage.
Hopefully, this isn't a preview:
NFL replacement officials working Jaguars practice are pitiful. Pending disaster for league if no settlement.— Paul Kuharsky (@espn_afcsouth) August 2, 2012
Exacerbating matters: Anderson admits they're not able to draw from the entire pool of NCAA officials when searching for replacements.
"First of all, division conferences haven't per se declared their officials off limits," he said Wednesday. "Rather we have a number of our current officials who are supervisors for those conferences so they have been able to put some pressure on college officials not to make themselves available to the NFL," Anderson said. "So we don't want to put that on college conferences, per se. But the officials we are putting on the field have substantial experience, all of whom have some college experience. And we're very comfortable that they will be very credible and do a very, very fine job for us."
This explains why the NFL was recruiting the lower-division college and semi-pro leagues for warm bodies. And last month, nine former officials said they were fired for refusing to train the replacements. (The league denied the accusations.)
While there's almost no chance that the players will strike in support of the officials, the reality is this: the game will suffer. In fact, it could be a bigger PR nightmare than last summer when the league locked out the players. Of course, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn't blink then -- and he got exactly what he wanted. There's no reason to think that'll change now.
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