Replacement Refs…

I wanted to take a moment while having a cup of coffee to give my thoughts on the replacement refs in the NFL. As a retired soccer official, I have to say I am on the side of the refs. It is a thankless job, for the most part, and you never hear anything until you make a mistake.
Now, the replacements may not be too bad at the level they worked BEFORE the lockout, but one who works high school or NCAA Div 2 games is not trained to work NFL level games. They are not equipped to handle the rules that are different when officiating a professional game. They are not equipped to officiate on a national level with millions of people questioning and second guessing their every call.
It is a lot easier to be confident in your calls when you don’t have to contend with very vocal Monday Morning Quarterbacks.
You can’t expect an official who, only a week before, was getting ready to work high school games in Mayberry, population 4,000, to not make a mistake when he is thrown into a game between the Lions and Titans in Nashville, TN, in front of millions of fans on TV.
Every official thinks about every call they make and we, as a collective group extending over every sport at every level, are often the most critical of ourselves. When you make a big call that could change the outcome of the game in favor of a team that will effect your own favorite team’s standings, you question yourself, when a player is hurt seriously during a game you are working, you question if you could have called the game differently, showing a harsher stance on behavior that could cause injuries. When you miss a call that changes the outcome of a game, you question your knowledge of the rules.
I think I am more critical of every game I ever worked because, when I started, we worked games as a single official, we didn’t have officials on the sidelines with the flags in uniform, we didn’t have a double official system, we didn’t have an officiating crew who worked together every single game.
I have been that “head official” at a newer sports complex where 4 games were being played at a time and I was the most senior official there, the most experienced. I have had to take a stand against parents and spectators. I didn’t have the benefit of instant replay or “booth reviews” when I wanted to double check a call. I have been chased with a cane, I have been cussed out, I have been insulted, I have been told I needed to stop working the games.
These replacement refs are human, yes, they are professionals, yes, but they are not trained to work the level of game they are working.
My first game that was a higher level, a travel soccer game, I was working alone, my hometown team (coached by one of my sister’s former coaches), I made a huge call against my home team, I disallowed a goal, that goal would have been the winning goal, for a moment, I was scared for my own safety, but I stood by the whistle and the coach actually complimented me after the game for the call. That one moment of validation is something that I carried with me whenever I worked other games.
There is still a parent banned from the league for an attempted assault because I didn’t make a call he felt I should have made. These are the things these replacement refs are used to dealing with. They are not used to the big time games like this, and the only reason they are there is because of a lockout from the refs who di deal with the NFL world.
The refs at the level I worked all know their own abilities, we all know what level we are capable of working, we all know our limits. We all knew if we wanted to move up to the higher levels, we would have to attend additional training and additional certification. We would have to learn new “house rules.” Every league has different rules specific to them. Every official has their own style, their own way of running a game. When you watch a baseball game, you know a particular umpire’s strike zone, and you know how that person calls a game. When you watch basketball, you know a particular ref’s travel zone and how that ref calls a game. When you saw I was working a soccer game back home, you knew I wouldn’t allow you to get away with the soccer equivalent of roughing the goalkeeper, that was how I called a game. I was good at it, I knew what I was doing. But I would never think I was capable of working a World Cup game or an international game. In fact, I turned it down once. I was at a game to meet a female referee who was the first female to work a men’s World Cup game, and one of the sideline refs got ill and I was asked to step in, I said no because I wasn’t ready for that kind of work. These replacement refs were not given that choice, they were not given the option to say no, it was, really, fill in and work the NFL games or there would be no season. They are working these games without ever having met their crew, or having only met them an hour before the game. The regular refs work with the same crew and have years of experience together.
Are they blowing big calls? Yes, there is no arguments there. It is more obvious as the season progresses. Do they need to never work again? No, they just need to be able to return to the level they are comfortable.
Ed Hochuli they are not.