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Replacement referees are not the problem

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

 

It’s not a good day to be a zebra.

For those of us who have spent a few years as officials – whether it was volunteering for the local Little League or Pop Warner and CYO teams, or actually working as paid officials for school and interscholastic athletics – today is a tough day. Today, your chosen avocation (most likely part-time, mind you) is being looked at with scorn and degradation…to put it mildly.

You are a second-class citizen.

All because a guy who got his chance to live out a dream screwed up a call in a football game, albeit an NFL football game. Lance Easley, who normally referees junior college football and basketball games as part of making his living, got the chance of a lifetime when the National Football League asked him to join in with replacement officials during the league’s dispute with the “real refs.” Should he have said “no thanks?”

Of course not. When would anyone like Easley ever get the chance to do something like this again?

Courtesy CNN

But today, Easley is the poster-child for bad calls. He was the side judge who signaled “touchdown” in the Seattle-Green Bay Monday Night Football game, giving a win to a Seahawks’ team that probably didn’t deserve it. Was it the right call to make? You probably have your own opinion…and the overwhelming majority of media, fans and even NFL players believe Easley blew it. While it appeared the Packers came up with an interception on the final play of the game, Easley ruled it a catch for the Seahawks.

And all hell is breaking loose. Forget the fact that the NFL is really to blame here, for putting Easley in position to make the call in the first place, because the league and the “real refs” are about $3.3 million apart in their contract negotiations. Forget the fact that Easley is probably calling it “as he sees it,” because the rules state a simultaneous catch made by an offensive player and a defender is to be ruled a catch by the offense. There is certainly debate over whether that’s the case or not…but in a split-second decision, a guy who’s only previous experience is at the Juco level, is asked to make a call that could impact teams, players, fans, other officials and hundreds of millions of dollars.

And that’s not right, or fair. Anyone who has pulled on a striped shirt does so for the love of the sport. Or the love of a kid who plays a sport. Even regular officials routinely make bad calls…it’s the nature of the sports they cover. They’re played and performed at a high speed and level of intensity – higher than the officials can perform themselves, without question. Humans (even trained humans) asked to make split-second judgments are simply going to make mistakes.

No, Lance Easley didn’t have to take the gig – but you would have if asked. I would have, if asked, and I certainly understand why the regular officials are holding out on the NFL.

For the chance of a lifetime? I’d have to go.

Was the MNF call a bad one? Were there several calls in the Patriots-Ravens game Sunday night that could have gone another way? Have replacement refs already admitted to making mistakes through the first three weeks of the regular season. Yes, to all. But don’t blame Easley, or anyone else that’s been given this chance. If you need to extract a pound of flesh from someone, go after the NFL – since they’ve put ALL of us in this situation, including the refs.

The league has said they’ll address the Seattle-Green Bay fiasco (won by the Seahawks 14-12) as soon as Tuesday afternoon. It’s an issue they should have addressed over the summer, before the regular season began. But don’t blame the guys making the calls…they’re doing the best they can, given the circumstances.

Hug a zebra today, or at least say “thanks” for doing a thankless job. It’s been a tough few weeks in the zoo.
 

 

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