Wednesday September 26, 2012

The games are getting longer. The coaches are getting angrier. The players and fans are getting ripped off. Isn't it time for the National Football League to drop its replacement officials and bring the real ones back?

Rumblings about the difficulties the substitutes might have begun back in the preseason, but they appeared to reach a crescendo Monday night when the Seahawks beat the Packers on a controversial last play Hail Mary pass, that according to published reports, included all sorts of infractions that the replacement refs didn't see. This was the scenario that everyone dreaded when the regular season opened three weeks ago: a controversial call that would decide the outcome of a game. Luckily, it's still early in the season. Imagine what would have happened if the play occurred in a game where a playoff berth was on the line. It's time to ensure that Monday night's game will be the only time that this situation occurs.

It's hard to fathom how a league as profitable as the NFL can't come to some sort of resolution with its officials. It's also arrogant for the league to even consider beginning the season with this situation in place. It's not the replacements' fault; they appear to be doing the best that they can. But the integrity of the game is at stake here. Professional football is a speed game. It takes a trained eye to officiate it. The league owes the fans better.

The players, on the other hand, have often appeared like students when a substitute teacher is in control of the classroom - let's see how much we can get away with. Now that the outcome of a game is in controversy, how long is it going to be before somebody gets seriously injured on a play that a replacement referee missed? The NFL may be stubborn, but at least it isn't as clueless as the National Hockey League, which recently locked out its players again, after similar labor strife caused the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season. At a time when the national unemployment rate is 8 percent - it's 7.3 percent in Canada - it's hard to have sympathy with either the owners or the players in a league that posted over $3 billion in revenues last year. Talk about turning a deaf ear to the fan base. The NHL deserves what it gets.