|Feelings about the replacement officials vary but the players' primary concern is about their safety. (US Presswire)|
The 2012 NFL regular season is eight days away. And unless something changes, when the Cowboys and Giants meet next Wednesday it will be with replacement officials on the field. This development doesn't sit well with a lot of people, not the least of which are the officials currently locked out by the owners. But they're not alone: fans may not care about the minutiae of the NFL rulebook or how its enforced, but players, coaches and former NFL officials do.
Which brings us to retired official Jerry Markbreit, who earlier this summer may or may not have been fired by the league for refusing to help train the replacement refs. Whatever happened this much is certain: Markbreit -- and his 36 years of NFL experience -- remains wholly unimpressed with the current crop of characters officiating preseason games.
"I watched highlights on the NFL Network last night,'' he told the Chicago Sun-Times David Haugh on Monday. "I saw referees with their head down, their cap over their eyes making announcements. I watched their mechanics. Honest to God, it made me cry seeing it. This is the National Football League. …
"I know they're working their fannies off," he continued. "But these people are not schooled in professional football. They don't know the rules. They can have supervisors on the sideline, they still can't officiate the game. The integrity of the game is everything.''
Markbreit's concerns echo many of those voiced previously, including former VP of officials, Mike Pereira.
Yahoo.com's Jason Cole writes that the lockout has less to do about integrity than money.
"In 2011, according to the NFL, the average ref made $149,000. The average starting salary was $78,000. Under the proposal the NFL has given, those numbers will rise to $189,000 on average and $165,000 to start by 2018. It's not what the officials want, but it's still damn good money."
Yes it is. And it's part of the reason why fans don't care.
It's hard to deny that the regular officials weren't regularly the ire of players, coaches, fans and media on a weekly basis. That won't change if they come back tomorrow or in three months. And, yes, Markbreit and Pereira are laying it on a bit thick with the "integrity of the game" talk. But the biggest issue isn't that defensive holding is properly and consistently called, it's player safety, something commissioner Roger Goodell has championed in recent years.
Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka addressed this during a recent appearance on ROME. He was if safety was now a concern with the replacement refs. "I think over time that's the danger that we end up being in," he said. "Because you don't know how refs are going to respond to certain calls so if you have guys out there who are taking liberties with the lack of calls then, yeah, we're going to be at risk."
Of course, beyond the injury concerns there are also the garden-variety complaints about the lackluster officiating. Titans defensive coordinator compared the refs to "The Three Stooges," Bears kicker Robbie Gould called them clueless, while Vikings punter Chris Kluwe used words like "horrible" and "embarrassing."
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith recently told the New York Times that “I've said before that on a scale of 1 to 10, I think this is a 12. With the regular season approaching, my level of concern (about player safety) is only increasing.”
Predictably, the league stands by the replacements. Ray Anderson, the NFL VP for football operations, said “We will not come out and say they are without their warts, but we will say that we've seen improvement every week. At the end of it, we are very confident that this group of current officials will be credible.”
And maybe that's so. But when?
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