Despite what you may have heard, the replacement officials working in the NFL while the regular officials remain embroiled in a contract negotiation are doing just fine.
Plenty of people have complained about the replacement refs today after watching them make mistakes on Sunday, but it’s important to remember that plenty of people complain about the regular refs after every NFL Sunday. That’s what football fans, media members and players do. There’s no doubt that the replacement officials have made mistakes, but the regular officials make mistakes, too.
I agree with Jim Daopoulos, who spent 11 years as an NFL on-field official and 12 years as an NFL supervisor of officials, who said on Pro Football Talk on NBC Sports Network that the replacement officials have improved from the preseason, when he would have graded them a D, to the first week of the regular season, when he would grade them a B.
Many of the fans and members of the media who have bashed the replacement officials have actually been wrong themselves and criticized the replacements for calls they got right. For instance, a Deadspin post on supposed errors by the replacements says that “one of the most glaring mistakes” came when the Redskins got a first down following a five-yard penalty even though they were more than five yards away from a first down. In reality, the officials got that one right: In the sequence in question, the Redskins got the ball on the 20-yard line on a touchback, then threw an incomplete pass on first down, got a gain of slightly more than five yards on second down and threw an incomplete pass on third down before the Saints were called for a five-yard offside penalty on fourth down. Deadspin illustrated this alleged mistake with video footage that appeared to show the Redskins running their third-down play with the ball being snapped just short of the 25-yard line, which would suggest that a five-yard penalty wouldn’t be enough to get the ball to the 30-yard line for a first down. But in reality the ball was spotted past the 25-yard line, and it only looked like it was short of the 25 because the Redskins’ center tilted the ball back when he lined up.
Some of the other so-called mistakes in the Deadspin post — and in other complaints I’ve seen from other media outlets and from players and fans — have been judgment calls about penalties like pass interference, which we all know is a notoriously difficult rule to enforce consistently no matter who the officials are. Saying you disagree with a pass interference call is one thing. Saying you’re sure the regular refs would have called it the way you saw it is something else.
And that gets to the real question: Not whether or not the replacement officials made any mistakes on Sunday — of course they did, just as players and coaches made mistakes — but whether the replacement officials made more mistakes than the regular officials would have. I only saw two officiating mistakes on Sunday that I felt confident the regular officials wouldn’t have made. One was the timeout fiasco late in the Seahawks-Cardinals game, and the other was being out of position when Peyton Manning called for a quick snap to catch the Steelers with 12 players on the field in Denver. On the timeout situation, the replacement ref has admitted he didn’t know the rule, and I think a regular ref probably would have (although that same rule was called incorrectly by a regular ref in a 2009 game). And the experienced regular refs surely all know by now that when Manning is operating the no-huddle offense, they need to spot the ball and get into position quickly between plays.
If the replacement officials made two more mistakes than the regular officials would have, that’s two too many. But it’s not the officiating debacle that some are making it out to be. I’d like to see the lockout end because I’d like to see the best officials on the field, but I’m not going to pretend the replacement officials are all a bunch of incompetent buffoons, because they’re not. They’re mostly doing solid work.
Here’s Jim Daopoulos going over the officiating issues from Week One:This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!