Wednesday's 60-second rant: NFL shows apathy with ref farce

Posted Sept. 19, 2012 @ 11:43 a.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Do you really think the league cares?

Consider everything you know about the NFL. Gather your thoughts and apply that knowledge to the current standoff with the referees. Do you think the NFL will budge on this matter?

I am waiting for a no, in case you had not figured it out.

When was the last time the league remitted on anything? The last time it admitted it was wrong on something? No mea culpas coming from 345 Park Avenue. It might be a new, downsized location after being located down the street at 280 Park Avenue after many years, but it’s the same NFL.

Stubborn. Fierce. Unyielding.

In a way, that’s its hallmark — and it’s a huge part of how the NFL has built itself into a monster. But when the league gets to the point where it has substandard games being poorly officiated by under-qualified men and women, and there's no tangible acceptance of blame, it shows just how blindly obdurate it has become.

The players are starting to speak out. Ravens QB Joe Flacco got the ball rolling in Week Two with what he thought was a poorly officiated game in Philadelphia, his words having now gone viral.

“I have no idea, but the NFL and everybody always talks about the integrity of the game and things like that, and I think this is kind of along those lines,” he said. “Not to say these guys are doing a bad job, but the fact that we don’t have the normal guys out there is pretty crazy.”

The TV analysts are jumping in. NBC’s Tony Dungy echoed Flacco in saying that defensive backs are getting away with a form of jiu-jitsu when going after receivers.

“One area where they are struggling is downfield contact,” Dungy said of the replacement refs. “There’s no illegal contact penalty in college, so they’re not looking for it.

“A lot of wrestling.”

As former DBs, Dungy and Rodney Harrison should know.

“This is why Flacco and other quarterbacks around the league are frustrated,” Harrison said Sunday night on NBC's Football Night in America. “If I’m a defensive back and they’re not calling it, I’m going to do it the entire day.”

Most coaches are biting their lips on the matter, but some can’t help hinting at the problem. After saying he couldn’t talk about the officials, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh weighed in on the pass-interference issue: “The challenge for us right now is what constitutes what? You know, what constitutes illegal contact? What constitutes pass interference? I’m not sure right now.”

In a way, you could argue the NFL is taking the same approach to the contract negotiations with the NFL Referees Association. If people are still watching in record numbers (the Week One TV ratings were fabulous), then what exactly needs to change? That's the league's philosophy.

Not that the NFLRA isn't to blame, either. The NFL has raised its offer recently, per reports. And yet the referees' union has gone into a bunker mentality. Privately, the officials might be pining for those handsome game checks they are missing. But we have no idea what their negotiation strategy is at this point. They're asking for a lot, too.

Right now, neither side is winning, and it's affecting the quality of games. Safety issues are the next concern. The two veteran head coaches in the Redskins-Rams game had to feel what I saw on TV: a game that got out of control. The refs had no chance. It wasn’t their fault because they don’t know how to handle this.

“I think it’s a combination of everything,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said afterward. “It’s our game. Most of them are not Division I. They’re all doing the best they can, but it’s a combination of everything. It’s the speed, it’s the difference in rules, it’s everything. We just hope that they’re able to get things put together here as soon as they can.”

It’s the substitute-teacher theory at work. Day One, the kids behave pretty well. Day Two, all they can think about is what they can get away with. Week One in the NFL was passable. Week Two was atrocious. We shouldn’t even have the debate in Week Three.

The league must improve its offer. The regular officials must come out of hiding and be willing to meet halfway. They’re asking for a lot for guys who work 20-25 Sundays a year.

But if they do not come to an agreement on a new CBA, we’ll get more of the zoo-like atmosphere we had in St. Louis and elsewhere. Yes, people will continue to watch the games — the NFL more than anyone knows this — but the product is being seriously sullied.

The league talks about wanting to improve the in-game experience for the fans in order to fill stadium seats, but right now the product at hand has the serious potential for being marred by overmatched officials.

“You have to keep control of what’s going on on the field, and once you get used to doing something, it’s second nature and you go about your business,” Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said. “Everyone is (a) professional in this league in their own right. Sometimes you don’t make those calls right away and all of a sudden people do lose their composure.”

And how do coaches let this be known?

“You talk to the league. You let them know how you feel.”

Oh yeah? Smart man, Shanahan: When asked if he has contacted the league, he said, “No, I haven’t. I haven’t called them.”

Having been in the NFL for three decades now, he knows deaf ears when he sees them. That’s what the league has become — through its own creation. It has a great product that it’s willing to see at less than its full splendor.

It’s too bad, but the burden has been placed on the consumer, not the provider. Strange, isn’t it? But Econ 101 — supply, demand and all of that — gives us all the answers we need on why the NFL moves the way it does.

The lesson they will not learn today or tomorrow, but perhaps a decade from now, whether it’s still Roger Goodell or whether it’s his successor of football sovereignty, is that it won’t always be this way. That’s probably the next time we’ll see the NFL act like it cares about things such as this.