NFL teams can be fined or otherwise sanctioned if the league feels like it for taking after officials based on in-game situations, but it seems as if the league is just a bit more sensitive about the issue of public criticism of its officials while the actual refs are locked out in a labor dispute.
To that end, the NFL has sent out a memo to all teams instructing them to avoid any public criticism of the replacement officials, who will work until a new collective bargaining agreement is struck between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association.
The memo, acquired by Mike Freeman of CBS Sports, seems to indicate that the league is preparing for a long holdup in a new CBA.
As discussed in our recent conference calls, it's imperative that your entire organization welcomes these officials and provides them with an environment that maximizes their training opportunities and encourages their development [...]
[...] Finally, we remind you that club personnel should not engage in public discussions about the lockout. We have attached some talking points for use by owners and a separate set of talking points for use by head coaches, if necessary. If you are asked about the negotiations or the replacement officials, feel free to refer the question to our office. Please share these expectations with your coaches, players and operations staff so that all may contribute to the success of our officials on the field in 2012.
As Freeman points out, this pre-emptive strike by the league seems to indicate that perhaps there isn't as much confidence in a group of retirees and small-school officials with a couple months of NFL training as Roger Goodell has expressed. Hmmm...
"That's why we've been training them for the last two months and why they're on the field now, is to make sure they're prepared, they understand the rules," Goodell said earlier this month. "... We're preparing for the season and we will have officials on the field. We hope that the officials from last season will be on the field again this year but to date, we haven't been able to get an agreement that makes sense for both parties."
For a league that has gone out of its way to task game officials with extra tasks regarding the maintenance of player safety, this seems a counter-intuitive move, to say the least.
"To take seven officials who have not worked Division I games or not worked the last several years, and to put them on the field has got to be pretty unsettling not only to the players and coaches, but to the fans," NFLPA president and longtime NFL game official Scott Green said in mid-July. "The players have plenty of things to worry about on the field; they don't need to be worrying about the officials."
Now, they also have to worry about what sorts of letters they'll get from the NFL if they dare to criticize those refs running things in the interim.