The National Football League is currently in a labor dispute with its game-day officials, and there appears to be no end in sight. However, the 2012 season must go on, and the league has decided to use replacements to officiate the games until the current labor impasse is resolved.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that he's OK with using replacements to officiate games. In fact, the 2012 preseason kicked off Sunday Night with the annual Hall of Fame Game between the Saints and Cardinals, and substitutes were used to officiate the contest.
Well, replacement officials might be OK for the preseason, but what if this labor dispute goes on for an extended period of time? Do you really trust replacement officials to be as perfect as the regular officials have been for decades?
Think about the potential consequences.
As we all know, players, coaches and fans have always held NFL officials in high regard and have always treated them with the utmost respect. I know, as a fan, if a questionable call went against the Steelers during a game in the past, I would just nod my head in agreement and say, "Well, Mr. Official, I respect your decision even though it went against my Steelers. After all, you're the expert, and if you say it was holding, it must have been holding."
But now, with replacements officiating the games, I might actually start to complain about calls that go against my team, and I might even swear at the officials and call them names. I might even accuse the replacement officials of wanting the Steelers to lose.
I imagine that players and coaches could possibly do the same thing. To my knowledge, a head coach has never gone on a postgame rant about the officials. Now you might see it every Sunday.
In the past, you would never hear a player question the integrity or ability of an officiating crew. Now, with replacements, you might see players being fined every week after questioning a call that went against their team.
And can you imagine the field day that the media will have if a replacement official blows a crucial call during a game? It could happen in week one in the Steelers regular season opener on Sunday night football against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Let's say, for example, Troy Polamalu dives in front of a Manning pass and intercepts it. Troy then gets up to try and advance the football, but loses possession before getting off the ground and has to fall on his own fumble. The play is blown dead and Pittsburgh is awarded the football. After all, Troy only fumbled the football AFTER intercepting it. Of course it's a turnover. However, what if Denver challenges that Troy had full possession and the interception is then overturned after the inexperienced referee says that, because Troy lost the football before getting both knees off the ground, it's an incomplete pass? What if this overturned call leads to a Broncos' victory? I can imagine the outcry the next day.
Pittsburgh talk shows would dedicate entire segments to the blown call. Steelers fans would call in and say that the NFL wanted Peyton Manning's Broncos debut to be successful so they directed the replacement ref to overturn the critical call. They might even accuse the replacement officials of taking bribes from Manning.
Fans have never reacted that way in the entire history of the NFL. Now, it could open up Pandora's Box, especially in the Internet age of message boards and sports blogs. Before, a fan would never use a blog as a platform to question the legitimacy of an official's call. Now, with replacements, it might happen every Monday morning.
Fans have never questioned a referee's eye-sight or wondered if he had his head buried in another part of his body. Now, with replacements, there might be cries for mandatory pre-game eye-tests.
And an obvious interception that's called an incomplete pass could be just the tip of the iceberg. What about whistles that are blown prematurely or rules that are misinterpreted? What about questionable penalties at crucial moments?
These are things that the NFL never, ever had to worry about before. However, with replacement officials, things could get downright ugly.
Hurry back, regular NFL officials. You're the best in the world at what you do.