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Posted at 11:46 AM ET, 08/14/2012

Report: NFL may open season with replacement referees


Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo talks with a replacement official during Monday’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. (Ben Margot / AP)
There is no end in sight to the lockout of game officials, with the NFL preparing to open the season Sept. 5 using replacements, according to ESPN.

The NFL says it believes game officials will improve as preseason games proceed. For the league’s sake, they had better. In the one of the more obvious blunders from Preseason Week 1, an official failed to note that a Buffalo Bills player had downed a punt on the Washington Redskins’ four-yard line and called it a touchback. Chan Gailey successfully appealed. In the Dallas Cowboys’ game Monday night against the Oakland Raiders, Tony Romo helped an official spot the ball. Team names, player names and even a coin flip have been messed up.

Can you imagine any of those things happening in a regular-season game?

“They’re really in over their heads,” Fox analyst Mike Pereira, the NFL’s former vice-president of officiating, told NESN.

Victor Cruz of the New York Giants noted that Jayron Hosley was called for holding on a play — he was returning a punt — Friday night. It’s enough to make a guy happy to see the regular refs.

“That will probably be the first time I'll be happy to see a ref I saw from last year,” Cruz said. “I'm going to shake his hand and say, ‘Thank you for coming back.’ ”

As regular refs criticize the replacements’ performance and Ed Hochuli no doubt lifts increasingly heavy weights in frustration, Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications, said the replacements will improve.

“Overall the officials did a good job for the first week of preseason, and they will get better,” Aiello said. “There were some mistakes as there are every week of every season. We have been training the replacements for two months very intensively. They will continue to improve.

“We have an aggressively fair proposal on the table that is also designed to improve the quality of our officiating. We hope the NFLRA [NFL Referees Association] will recognize that and reach an agreement soon.”

“Soon” is the key word. Using replacements when the “real” season begins could turn the NFL into the one thing it truly does not want to be: a laughingstock.

“They've got the greatest game going in professional sports,” locked-out head linesman Mark Baltz told the Indianapolis Star. “I just can't understand why they're tinkering with this, over some little economic problems.”

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