I've weighed in on the topic of the replacement officials previously. My opinion was based on a few blown calls in a preseason game between Minnesota and San Diego, and my biggest concern - which is likely on par with most BTSC readers - is the possibility of big moments in games being altered due to poor calls, misinterpretations of rules and shoddy in-game management.
The NFL released a statement recently, and delivered it to all 32 teams "that the type of on-field behavior it witnessed last weekend will not be acceptable this weekend," according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The tone of the league's message is geared toward coaches berating officials, and Schefter's report calls out San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh and Denver's John Fox as perpetrators, although they're clearly not the only ones guilty of raking officials over coals for what they deem to be poor judgement while on the field.
Schefter's report suggests the coaches are the underlying recipients of the message, but that's likely just the demonstrated examples chosen for the story.
It raises a better question, though. To whom is the league aiming this message? Is it just the coaches? Does the scope of the message include the players, too? The fact it was delivered to the owners, who in turn pay NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is ultimately responsible for the current lockout of the "actual" officials, seems redundant.
Goodell and the owners are the ones ultimately responsible for all of this. The league continues to feed the media this tripe while at the same time squabbling over pennies in a buck of silver dollars.
Schefter's report quoted NFL Executive Vice President Ray Anderson as saying "We contacted them to remind them that everyone has a responsibility to respect the game. We expect it to be adhered to this weekend and forevermore."
Who's not respecting the game, Mr. Anderson? Everyone but the league, apparently. This notice was issued after Week 2.
Let's pretend for a minute the NFL is a well-run organization with strong, educated leadership. Let's further assume the NFL was smart enough to think, "our credibility may take a hit if we are openly hiring officiating crews who have not worked in the speed or complexity at which the highest level of this sport is played."
If those assumptions are valid, then the league's lack of foresight (or lack of desire) to protect the replacement officials, particularly after a preseason in which the performance of those officials was suspect at best, is inexcusable.
The last All Points Bulletin issued by the NFL to the teams it represents was after Week 5 of 2010, or the Week The League Began Assigning Blame. Due to multiple instances of helmet-to-helmet hits on what were deemed to be "defenseless" receivers, the league doled out fines across the board. While the timing of that decree was interesting (helmet-to-helmet hits certainly existed before October, 2010), at least it can be understood.
The league's statement to its participants to mind their manners now is a farce; not only is this a message that should have been sent privately and publicly a long time ago, it doesn't seem unreasonable to think a reminder at the beginning of the season to watch their conduct is appropriate. Waiting until there's clearly a rising and significant problem with the product on the field is yet another example of the league closing the barn door after the horses escaped. Or maybe worse, it's designed to subtly request its fan base to cry out in protest against the situation in an effort to win their support.
If this battle is worth fighting, then perhaps the league shouldn't be using its coaches and players - who are understandably upset over being forced to change to the reduced quality of those overseeing game day directly - as pawns in their outright petty and undermining negotiations process.
With little leverage outside of letting its own product turn into a joke by waiting out the officials' union, the league can simply allow players (Ravens QB Joe Flacco and Giants LB Mathias Kiwanuka come immediately to mind) to sound off about the integrity of the league without reprecussion.
Or, at most, receiving a sternly worded letter addressed to no one in particular.
Comments like those made by Ravens S Bernard Pollard used to draw a fine.
"These guys are starstruck. Even in the preseason one of the refs saw Joe Flacco and he was amazed. I was thinking 'Wow, what if this was [Tom] Brady? What if this was Tony Gonzalez? All these other guys?" Pollard said. "I understand these guys are starstruck. I understand they respect us as players and they respect certain men that they've seen or watched. But when it's all said and done, you have to step on that field and you cannot be bullied."
While it seems laughable that an official would be "starstruck" by Joe Flacco, it's obvious Pollard is freely being allowed to berate the officials without consequence.
Players are clearly pushing their limits with officials on the field as well. An altercation between Packers safety Charles Woodson and Bears QB Jay Cutler was escalating in Week 2, with other players joining in the heated conversation. An official stepped in to break it up, and upon attempting to prevent a player from getting closer, the official was pushed by that player.
Typically, that generates a flag, and it's on the official to do that. However, the NFL clearly does not determine offenses meriting fines based on the flags of the officials on the field. Why was the player not fined?
If the league wants to keep their trained officials away over the matter of a few bucks in their coffers, that's one issue. The fact they are providing little to no support for the officials they did hire to manage their games is another - and deeply more troubling - issue.
It seems the league - its fans especially - would benefit by simply holding the players to the same standards they would have been held to if the normal crews were enforcing game-day rules as per usual.
No one wins with letters being sent long after they should have been.
Quick, Roger, the horses are getting away, close the door.