- Replacement refs were heavily criticized during the preseason
- "A lot of players... are concerned with it," Chicago Bears player says
- The NFL says the replacement refs have been trained
Let's get ready for some... bad calls?
Is this what the football rallying cry will turn into Wednesday night when the NFL kicks off its season-opener with replacement referees?
Stalled contract negotiations will put replacement officials in the spotlight Wednesday as the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys. Most of these refs have never blown their whistle in a regular-season NFL game.
If the preseason is any indication, there's reason for worry.
"They were bad," said Kevin Lincoln, a deputy sports editor of social media website BuzzFeed. "Most of these referees hail from leagues where the quality of play is slower, lower-stakes, and just generally different than the NFL. Not only did refs make incorrect calls in the preseason — they also seemed to be sketchy on NFL rules."
After a bevy of botched calls, ESPN recently put together a long video montage of the new refs stuttering, awarding the ball to the wrong team and missing seemingly obvious calls.
Some of the decisions have elicited chuckles.
There was the referee who mixed up the coin toss in preseason game between the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals.
There was the official who gave the Giants an extra play against the Chicago Bears even though the quarter should have ended.
And there was the referee who apparently forgot what city he was in and continually referred to the Atlanta Falcons as Arizona during penalty announcements. That game was played in Atlanta and the Falcons were playing the Baltimore Ravens.
Negotiations between the league and the referees have gone on and off for months.
Last week, after little headway was made in the negotiations over money and other issues, the NFL sent memos to its 32 teams about the replacement referees.
"In light of the current state of negotiations, we will have replacement crews on the field when the regular season begins," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
The league has said that it searched for officials with college experience, but did not make the replacements available for comment. So, little is known about their backgrounds.
But at least one of them has worked in the past for the Lingerie Football League, according to reports. It's exactly what you think it is: women playing football in their underwear.
For the players, especially, this is a serious matter. Bad calls could lead to injuries.
"We want to see that they can keep up. And first and foremost protect the players and keep them safe," said Adam Podlesh, a punter with the Chicago Bears. "You can talk to a lot of players. They are concerned with it."
Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard told the NFL Network he is concerned with the inexperience of the new refs.
"It is new to them. It is new to the replacement refs," Pollard said. "This game is so much faster than what they've seen. The players are much slicker than what they have seen. So we just have to hope and pray."
So on Wednesday, the stage is set and many will be watching for more than just touchdowns.
Aiello, however, has given the new refs a vote of confidence.
"The replacements have undergone extensive training and evaluation, and have shown steady improvement during the preseason," the NFL spokesman said last week.
Former Giants running back Tiki Barber said something good may yet come out of this. The replacement referee's performance could end the stalled contract battle, Barber says.
"They went through a lot of growing pains and if they go a significant way through the season they are going to go through a lot more," Barber said. "And the value of the real referees will get stronger."