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Steinberg: NFL needs to replace the replacements

Steinberg Says

September 08, 2012|By Leigh Steinberg

Are you ready for some football?

The first full weekend of NFL games kicks off Sunday, but this won't by any normal opening weekend.

Something critical is missing — real NFL officials. The league and its officials have been deadlocked throughout the summer on terms for a new contract. In a move reminiscent of President Reagan and the air traffic controllers, the NFL decided to start the season without them, turning to replacement officials.

NFL games are the most difficult in team sports to officiate. effectively referee. Unless you've ever stood on the sidelines, it is difficult to comprehend the massive amount of action and force occurring on each play. Imagine 22 gargantuan bodies moving laterally and vertically at breathtaking speed. A complex set of rules need to be enforced under extreme time pressure and most calls are subject to instant replay scrutiny.

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There is a critical need to enforce unnecessary roughness and late-hit penalties to protect the health and safety of players. This is a sport that has been generally well-officiated by well-trained, experienced professionals. The search for replacement officials focused on small college Division II and III football. There are also replacements from the Arena League, high schools and even the Lingerie Football League. This is the first experience in NFL football for all of them.

The preseason was played with these replacements. In the first game, referee Craig Ochoa announced that New Orleans had won the toss. Except it was Arizona. There were penalties called on wrong players, spots of the ball were a couple yards off and inaccurate or misleading explanations were made publicly of the penalty calls.

It is not that  regular officials never make bad calls. But the pressure and activity in the regular season is vastly different than the preseason. Regular season games feature the fastest, most talented players, and the speed of the game is exponentially higher.

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