|Replacement refs will work the Hall of Fame Game this weekend. (Getty Images)|
In two days, the Saints and Cardinals will face off in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. Typically, these get-togethers are strictly ceremonial -- nothing more than a harbinger that quality football isn't far behind. A year ago, the promise of quality football was threatened when the owners locked out the players. The two sides came to terms in late July.
This time around, the players are ready but quality could succumb to the whims of inexperienced and unprepared replacement officials. The owners have locked out the regular NFL officials (like the players, it's about money) and commissioner Roger Goodell is ready to move forward with or without them, even as everyone else laments the possible ramifications.
On Friday, Goodell appeared on the Dan Patrick Show where fill-in host Mike Florio asked him if worst came to worst, he'd be willing to don a black and white uniform.
"I have great respect for the officials," Goodell said laughingly before getting serious. "You really need to train for that so that wouldn't be my role. But we've been working with our officials and we'll hopefully have an agreement but if we don't, we're prepared to go with the replacements."
Earlier this week, Florio spoke with former vice president of officials Mike Pereira, who made it clear that replacement officials will negatively impact the game.
"My feeling is this: I've been through [a lockout] once and I know how hard it is," he said. … "I really don't have a horse in this race -- I don't work for the league anymore, I'm not the head of officiating anymore, I'm actually an analyst who likes to watch the football games. And I want a pure football game. I want the best players and I want the best officials.
"You know, we all criticize officials and I'm guilty of that too. But you have the 120 best in the country that have 1,400 years of experience -- they're going to be sitting on the sidelines and not working these games. And to me, it strongly compromises the integrity of the game because the officials with 1,400 years of experience aren't perfect. They actually make as many as five mistakes per game … it demonstrates how hard it is.
"Now you're going to get a group of people out there with no experience, and you've got such a mix of people -- some with barely more than high school experience, you've got guys that have been out of the game for years, you've got guys that have officiated in the lingerie football league … you've got such a mix right now that it's not good for the game."
When Florio mentioned Pereria's concerns to Goodell, the commissioner seemed unconcerned.
"Our former VP of officials, Mike Pereira, oversaw replacement officials in 2001," he said. "And we had several weeks with replacement officials that he oversaw. In fact, as I recall, he was on the field. So we can do it, we've done it before, and this time we'll have close to three months training before doing that, if it's necessary."
So where does the truth lie? Well, if training camp reports are any indication, the replacements could be an unmitigated disaster in a Keanu Reeves-trying-to-throw-a-football sort of way. Yesterday, ESPN AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky tweeted that the refs working the Jaguars' practice looked "pitiful."
One NFL player told CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman that "There is a distinct difference between the real guys and these guys. This is not good."
The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs had a veteran scout tell him the replacement refs were in "awe" and would "call only what is obvious."
Then there's this from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "After one of the officials unknowingly blew a kickoff drill dead because the ball went through the end zone (during a Steelers' practice Thursday), Coach Mike Tomlin screamed from the other end of the field, "Put your damn whistles away, we're working."
And like any inefficiency in the market, there will be those trying to game the system. Take Bears' center Roberto Garza, who admitted that “These [replacement officials] do that for a living so they know what they are doing,” and added that, “I don't know that they can affect the game that much. It's up to us to go out and play anyway."
But Garza offered this qualification: "Obviously, you want the guys that have been around the game to go out there and officiate our game.”
Those lacking experience, however, could mean missed calls -- something the veteran scout thinks could lead to plenty of holding in the trenches.
“They've been around the game,” said Garza. “They know what they're doing. But we might be able to get away with more. That would be good for us.”
And bad for everyone else.
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