After the debacle that was Week 2 of the 2012 NFL season, the league office has taken swift and proactive action to remedy the problems between coaches and replacement officials.
Unfortunately, that action has nothing to do with training or replacing those officials with better ones, or the real ones who have been locked out for months.
Instead, the NFL has issued a warning to all 32 NFL teams insisting that the behavior seen from coaches such as Atlanta's Mike Smith, Denver's John Fox, and San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh will no longer be tolerated. Those coaches, who were reacting to ridiculous mishandlings of in-game situations by unqualified refs, have been told in no uncertain terms to cut it out.
ESPN's Adam Schefter was told by NFL VP of football operations Ray Anderson that "We contacted [the teams] to remind them that everyone has a responsibility to respect the game. We expect it to be adhered to this weekend and forevermore."
Schefter asked what would happen if any coach violated the sanctity of the league's new hands-off policy. "If someone were to make that mistake, he would be flagged on the field and he would be hearing from our office in a very firm way," Anderson said.
Clearly, this is yet another example of the NFL trying to cover its own collective backside in a labor war with its longtime officials that has been a severe detriment to the game. Perhaps the best example occurred on the most national stage. During the "Monday Night Football" game between the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos, there were several interminable delays that had the telecast going just short of the four-hour mark as the replacements tried in vain to take charge of a game that was spiraling out of control at all times.
Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards actually put his hands on an official during one fracas and was not ejected, Broncos center J.D. Walton pulled one official out of a pile and wasn't even penalized, and there were two embarrassing spot foul mistakes that you wouldn't expect of first-year high school refs.
ESPN's broadcast crew, normally cognizant of its relationship with the NFL, went rogue because it could do nothing else. Play-by-play man Mike Tirico called the situation "an embarrassment," and color man Jon Gruden, never one to mince words with officials when he was a head coach with the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was eventually rendered speechless by the incompetence he saw.
The NFL, intent on driving the locked-out officials back to the bargaining table on its own terms only, has refused to acknowledge that the issues even exist. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello will only say that "[The NFL is] going to continue to do everything possible to raise the level of performance of the current officials."
And while that behemoth project is in the works, there will be no in-game reminders or admonishments from the coaches whose jobs could depend in part on what these officials do. The NFL and the NFL Referees Association did meet this week, per Jay Glazer of FOX Sports, but little progress was made.
After that Monday night disaster, ESPN analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young went on a blistering tirade about the state of the game.
"Everything about the NFL now is inelastic for demand," Young said. "There's nothing they can do right now to hurt the demand for the game. The bottom line is, they don't care. Player safety doesn't matter in this case. Bring in the Division III officials — it doesn't matter. In the end you're still going to watch the game, we're going to all complain and moan and gripe but … it doesn't matter. Go ahead, gripe all they want. I'm going to rest. Let them eat cake."
Indeed. And just to add — let them eat cake and shut up about it.
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