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Replacement officials starting to raise risks but NFL remains unmoved

by | National NFL Insider
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A rough Monday night effort heats things up again for replacement refs and the NFL. (Getty Images)  
A rough Monday night effort heats things up again for replacement refs and the NFL. (Getty Images)  

Two replacement officials were working Dallas Cowboys scrimmages early last week. Days later the officials were told by Carl Johnson, the league's director of officiating, they could indeed work the practices as well.

"Feel free to mingle with the players and eat any provided meals," Johnson told the officials, according to a variety of sources with direct knowledge of the situation. "Don't take money from the Cowboys. The league office will pay you."

The NFL frowns upon officials fraternizing with players, for obvious reasons: You don't want to create a conflict of interest or, at the very least, an appearance of one. In this particular instance the replacement officials would not go on to work Cowboys games.

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2012 NFL Week 2
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That same week, Sept. 10, began a troublesome series of events for the NFL and replacement officials. One replacement official was discovered to be a Saints fan, seen wearing Saints gear on his Facebook page, and was scheduled to work a Saints game. He would end up being pulled off Sunday's game. Other replacements had worked camps of the Seahawks and were paid by the team, and later officiated their games.

On Thursday morning, the 13th, the officials received a frantic call from a league official: "Get out of the [Cowboys] locker room. Make sure you're not seen and get out as quick as possible!"

The replacements, sources say, practically ran from the premises.

Later that day, the league sent out its Week 2 memo. The 10th point of that memo noted: "Effective immediately, officials will not work NFL team scrimmages during the week."

One NFL source, in response to the information obtained by CBSSports.com, did not deny the information. The source said officials were allowed to work team practices in training camp and early into the season. This was in order to get the greenhorn replacement officials reps within the NFL environment. Yet, that does not explain why the league seemed to almost panic and quickly change its guidelines once the media and others began examining various conflicts of interest.

The NFL states its officials are doing an adequate job, and the league has some fair points. Some of the replacements have done solid jobs and the men themselves are in impossible positions.

But the above scene was another caboose astray in what has been a train wreck that are the replacements. The league's decision to use men who are clearly under-qualified for the role could go down as one of the worst the NFL has made in some time. Why? Look at some of the examples:

 Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy told WIP radio in Philadelphia that a replacement official told him during their game: "McCoy, come on, I need you for my fantasy" team.

 The official wearing Saints garb on his Facebook page was pulled from officiating the New Orleans game.

 Officials that worked Seattle practices -– and were paid by the Seahawks -- officiated a Seahawks game, which is a clear conflict of interest.

 On Monday night, officials failed to properly stop a 6-minute skirmish during the Atlanta-Denver game. During that game, three calls were overturned on replay in the first half alone. There were 18 total penalties.

 Replacement officials lost control of the Baltimore-Philadelphia game and stopped the clock twice for the 2-minute warning. That game, as well as others, demonstrated how players are increasingly taking advantage of the replacements.

"During the game, they made like a bad call or something, the ref, and I see Ray Lewis like pump his chest up, trying to scare him," McCoy said. "Don't you know (the ref) started stuttering? I'm like, 'What's this?'"

There are many other examples. "There's a lot of people in the league that would rather break the (referees) union," Hall of Famer Steve Young said after the Monday night debacle. " ... They feel like (officiating) is a commodity. But more importantly, everything about the NFL now is inelastic for demand. There's nothing (it) can do to hurt the demand for the game. So, the bottom line is they don't care. Player safety? Doesn't matter in this case. Bringing in Division III officials? Doesn't matter. Because in the end, you're still going to watch the game."

"It's sad. This is so sad. It's hard to watch," said one referee source. "It's an insult to the profession and to the men who worked 20 years to be professionals. After this weekend's catastrophes the (NFLRA's) phones should have been ringing off the hook (Tuesday) morning. Paul (former commissioner Paul Tagliabue) wouldn't have ever let it come to this. Under Roger (Goodell), the owners have become arrogant, power-crazed.

"I've been around the league a long time, and this isn't how it was. And what it was is how it got to be so good. They aren't open to real negotiations in any sense. It's about busting a union just because they can. This has to stop. Someone has to be the voice of reason, and soon. They're playing Russian roulette. Someone told me it's going to take career-ending injury to a franchise quarterback to get them to have a reasonable conversation. That makes it hard to sleep at night."

The league vehemently denies this and says it is open to negotiations with the union.

The biggest problem remains the officials don't know the rules, and since they do not know them, this interrupts the flow of the game.

When will the replacements be replaced by the real officials? It still may be some weeks. No negotiations are scheduled at the moment and none are expected any time soon.

So the replacements, unfortunately, will be here for awhile.

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