If you've been fairly apoplectic about the quality of officiating exhibited by the replacement refs this preseason, get ready for a new level of ineptitude. On Saturday morning, the NFL Referees' Association released a statement confirming that recent talks between the actual NFL officials and the league have gone nowhere, and the replacements will work at least the first week of the 2012 regular season.
From the NFLRA:
"We met with the NFL this morning and discussed various potential solutions to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. Unfortunately we were unable to reach any agreement.
"We are disappointed because it means that our members will not be back on the field
for Week 1 of the regular season due to the NFL's continuing lockout.
"We remain willing to negotiate with the NFL in order to reach a fair agreement. However, no additional meetings are scheduled at this time.
In an August 29 memo to all 32 teams, NFL Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson said that "we will have replacement crews on the field when the regular season begins. The replacements have undergone extensive training and evaluation, and have shown steady improvement during the preseason. We will continue the training with each crew and they will work as much of the regular season as necessary. The replacement officials are dedicated and enthusiastic, have worked very hard to improve, and have persevered despite the attacks on their qualifications and performance. We are all grateful for their service to the NFL."
[Michael Silver: Eagles boss Jeffrey Lurie gives Andy Reid justifiable ultimatum]
As part of our effort to support the replacement officials," Anderson's memo continued, "we will employ procedures similar to those in effect in the postseason. We will have an officiating supervisor from our staff in the replay booth at each game whose job will be to help ensure correct penalty enforcement, administration of rules not involving fouls, operation of the game and play clocks, and game administration. The supervisor will be able to communicate directly with the alternate official on the sidelines. The supervisor will not be involved in either the instant replay system or any judgment made by the officials on the field. As in all games, the final decision will be made by the referee on the field and no decision will be revisited or changed once the ball has been snapped for the next play."
The NFL is clearly playing a game of "chicken" here, assuming that there won't be enough abhorrent calls from crews at least two steps down in quality from the real guys to affect games, cause additional injuries, or cause a suitable public uproar to push the advantage to the NFLRA's side. It's possible that something could be worked out in the next 24 hours, but the replacement officials will most likely work well into the season unless the NFLRA capitulates.
One party with sufficient interest in this labor battle might be the various television networks, who would prefer that the replacements avoid the 5-10-minute debates they've been enjoying through the preseason as they try to understand just what the heck it is they're doing. Then again, perhaps the networks can use those interminable delays to place more commercials.
In any case, and with no time for additional training, you can expect to see America's most popular sport -- a $9 billion per year enterprise -- run by zebras who are unqualified to officiate at this level under any other circumstances.
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