This post was updated at 4:40 p.m. with the written response from the NFL Referees’ Associaton.
The litany of bungled calls, confused referee huddles and exhaustive challenges that have plagued the NFL preseason will continue.
The league issued a memo to all 32 teams on Wednesday notifying them that the much-maligned replacement officials will work Week 1 of the regular season — and perhaps beyond.
The Super Bowl champion New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys kickoff the season in prime time next Wednesday night, Sept. 5.
Expect the growing list of complaints from coaches and players — and the increasingly-frequent groans from fans watching at home — to continue as long as the NFL’s contractual dispute with its officials lasts.
The memo, sent by Ray Anderson, the NFL’s vice-president of football operations, said negotiations between the league and the NFL Referees’ Association remain “deadlocked,” as reported by NFL.com.
(Read the full memo here, via CBSSports.com)
But while blown calls can have a major impact on a regular season game, player safety could be a larger concern for teams and their players. And that concern could soon turn into a call for action.
In a recent interview with SI.com, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith floated the idea of a players strike should the league continue trotting out its replacement officials.
“In America it is the employer’s obligation to provide as safe a working environment as possible,” Smith told the Web site. “We believe that if the National Football League fails in that obligation, we reserve the right to seek any relief that we believe is appropriate. The NFL has chosen to prevent the very officials that they have trained, championed and cultivated for decades to be on the field to protect players and — by their own admission — further our goal of enhanced safety. That is absurd on its face.”
In the memo, first reported by Mike Freeman of CBS, Anderson says the league will utilize an officiating supervisor to help avoid incorrect calls.
As part of our effort to support the replacement officials, 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.
But for a league that has trumpeted the increasing importance of player safety, using referees who are not prepared to handle the speed of the game seems contradictory.
“The only conclusion that I have is that the league cares more about money than it does about the experience of the referees as a vehicle to increase player safety,” Smith said.
The NFL Referees’ Association responded to Anderson’s memo in a written release.
We are not surprised based on Ray Anderson's statements yesterday that the NFL was not going to reach out to us. However, this is consistent with the NFL’s negotiating strategy which has been “take it or leave it” and lock them out. It now appears the NFL is willing to forego any attempt to reach a deal in the last seven (7) days before opening night.
It is unfortunate because the Referees want to get back on the field. Our members have been engaged in extensive preparations and are ready to go.
If the NFL is serious about negotiating, we are ready, but we can’t negotiate with ourselves.
Earlier this week Vikings punter Chris Kluwe called the replacement refs “horrible” and said using them to officiate NFL games is “kind of embarrassing.”
Vetern Packers safety Charles Woodson remained skeptical that the replacement officials were prepared to call regular season games.
“It’s almost like a young guy coming into the NFL. The game goes too fast for them,” Woodson said. “Now, could they go through a season and get better? Sure. But there’s going to be a lot of bad officiating going on until they catch up to the speed of the game.”