NFL Needs to Ditch Replacements, Bring Back Real Refs

The replacement referees are undermining the integrity of professional football.

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A referee picks up the yellow flag during the second half of an NFL preseason game between the Denver Broncos and the Arizona Cardinals.
A referee picks up the yellow flag during the second half of an NFL preseason game between the Denver Broncos and the Arizona Cardinals.

The  media and political professionals are engaged in a lot of blather and hand-wringing over Mitt Romney's missteps and second-place showing in polls in key states. This is a bit overblown. It's still six weeks before the election, the race it still very close, and a semi-dramatic event can change everything very quickly (as Romney learned with his remark about the 47 percent of the American public who do not pay federal income taxes).

But there is something that could bring critical votes, even in Democratic cities, over to Romney's side, if he were able to pull it off: Bring the old NFL refs back.

[Read: NFL Head's Confidence in Replacement Refs Won't Quell Player, Fan Concerns]

The so-called "replacement" refs are awful. They're worse than awful, actually. They are losing control of the game and undermining whatever integrity exists in a show like a professional football game. One referee was forced to step down after posting pictures of himself on Facebook wearing New Orleans Saints gear. That would be like a presidential debate moderator showing up in an Obama or Romney shirt.

[See photos From the 2012 NFL Kickoff.]

There were a series of bad calls just yesterday, including ones that could have made a difference in close games. In the Redskins-Bengals game, a ref ruled the game basically over—even though the Redskins quarterback had spiked the ball, which should have stopped the clock. An understandable complaint by the Redskins ended up with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, putting the Washington team in an impossible field position.

And you know it's bad when you start feeling compassion for New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who is irritating and a cheater, but understandably grabbed the arm of a ref at the end of the game last night after a bunch of poor calls. Tweeted Pats player Brandon Spikes: "Can someone please tell these [expletive] zebras foot locker called and they're needed back at work?"

[See photos of the NHL Lockout: Hockey Season in Danger as Negotiations Fail.]

Why does the league believe anyone can ref? Perhaps it's the "if you can dream it, you can do it" canard gone wild. People think if they own a cell phone camera and can create a Web site, they are journalists. They think if they can look up their medical symptoms online, they can diagnose themselves. Many of us indulge in I-can-do-that fantasies, thinking we could have gotten that question right on Jeopardy, or made the better call to run the ball instead of passing it. It's easy to watch enough Law and Order reruns that you start to think you could make mincemeat of any prosecutor or defense attorney who tried to cross-examine you on the stand. The reality is much harder. It's certainly harder on the field, where you need more than clear eyesight and a striped shirt to referee a game.

Yes, the real refs are paid well, arguably overpaid. But no one's more overcompensated than the owners. Make a deal and bring back real football. At least then we can start blaming the coaches again.

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