NFL 2012

The Scab Refs and the NFL Slide Deeper Into Incompetence
The stadium scene.
Sept. 24 2012 1:35 PM

NFL 2012

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The scab refs and the NFL slide deeper into incompetence.

John Harbaugh
Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens argues a call with a replacement referee.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images.

One of the great fallacies of this ongoing NFL replacement ref disaster is the idea that the refs will get better with each passing week, that a mere month or two of seasoning will magically make the scab refs as good as the old ones. If you watched any football yesterday, you know that the refs aren't improving. They're getting even worse. Let's go over four basic, serious problems from yesterday:

1. These assholes don't know the rules. I watched the Niners-Vikings game, which progressed more or less without incident for three and a half quarters before turning into a nightmare at the end. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, who was out of timeouts at the end of the game, managed to bully referee Ken Roan (played, as always, by Ray Liotta) into granting him two extra challenges that he didn't have.

The first one came after the Vikings' Toby Gerhart was ruled down by contact on an early whistle, before he dropped the football. Harbaugh took his final timeout and told Roan that he was using the timeout to challenge the play, because he thought Gerhart had fumbled. You can't do that—you have to throw the red flag and risk losing a timeout. You don't get to call timeout first.

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But Roan obligingly reviewed the play—and even though the replay showed Gerhart losing the ball after the whistle had been blown, he reversed the call and ruled it a fumble. So he awarded the Niners the ball and a free extra timeout. I bet he'd make a fabulous grandparent.

Got that? The scab refs blew the whistle too early, negating a fumble. Then they wrongly granted a replay challenge of the play. Then they wrongly overturned the play.

And 60 seconds later, they gave the Niners another free review on another Gerhart fumble. The calls were so horrific that the Fox crew spent the final minutes of the game openly rooting for the Vikings to hold on because they didn't want them to get fucked over. The scab refs didn't know a basic rule that most broadcasters and viewers at home instantly picked up on.

And that was the norm across the league yesterday. There was the Pats-Ravens game, in which Cris Collinsworth was apparently mandated to say THIS IS CRAZY! any time a glaring ref fuckup occurred.

Lardarius Webb was robbed of an interception after a phantom illegal contact penalty, and the ref clearly didn't know the difference between illegal contact and pass interference. Again, these are all things that the announcers picked up on. Basic rules. I understand when refs fuck up rules that are relatively complicated (anything involving an "act common to the game" makes my head go ouchie), but thus far they've demonstrated a poorer understanding of the game than Tony Siragusa, and that's a problem.

2. They've affected the outcomes of games. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio today explicitly stated that "the league has not (yet) had a game that was decided by a bad call at a critical moment." This is a lie. Florio is assuming that a critical moment is some play that comes at the very end of a game, but all plays are critical. Webb's pick was critical. To say those refs didn't "cost" the Ravens that game suggests they had no effect on the outcome, which is breathtakingly wrong (the Pats were victimized by a number of horrible calls, too).

These refs are affecting virtually every play. Players and coaches have no confidence in these games being governed in a proper manner, and that affects personal conduct, timeout use, play-calling, everything. It's not a matter of affecting the end of a game. This is affecting the entire game. Hop in a time machine and plug in competent refs for Week 3 and I promise you that the results would have been markedly different in ways that none of us could begin to know.

Furthermore, there's a massive fluctuation in quality from one scab ref from the next. Some of the old refs were horrible, obviously (Hi, Jeff Triplette!), and some of the scab refs have been passable. But there's a wild disparity in quality from one scab ref to the next. You have no idea if you're getting one of the better ones or if you're getting Ken Roan, and that kind of uncertainty is never a good thing. The disparity in quality between the old refs wasn't as pronounced.

3. They're getting players hurt. Darrius Heyward-Bey got knocked unconscious yesterday. Tony Romo got destroyed on a helmet-to-helmet hit. In neither case was a flag thrown. At this point, players are treating helmet-to-helmet fines as a kind of added tax. There's been no marked increase in player safety this season. Matt Schaub got Mr. Blonded out there yesterday. If players feel like they can get away with more shit, they will. That's why you're seeing so many after-play scuffles.

4. They're destroying the rhythm of the game. Every extended official conference and every pissing match that needs to be broken up and every 10-minute argument with a Harbaugh also has an effect on the game. Offense and defenses develop a sense of rhythm that gets ruined once the refs make them stand around quizzically for long stretches. Same goes for the viewer. By the end of the Vikings game yesterday, I was less elated that my team won and more baffled as to how the refs could fuck up so badly.

The bad refs have taken everyone out of their element. You're not even sure what you're watching. I saw the Pats/Ravens game last night and it didn't feel like the Ravens even won that game. It just felt like both teams were kicked in the nuts and then pushed out of the stadium.

There's a certain measure of luck and chance that goes into any football game, but these refs are making the entire game feel arbitrary, even pointless. And as long as Roger Goodell keeps the real refs locked out, that feeling isn't gonna go away. It's gonna grow and it's gonna take over everything. Imagine a Super Bowl officiated the way last night's game was officiated. Would that even be a Super Bowl, or would it just be one glorious reminder of Goodell's worthlessness?

Drew Magary is a Deadspin columnist and author of the book Men With Balls: The Professional Athlete's Handbook.

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