NFL Taking Risks With Replacement Officials

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

(The Root) — It's official: The NFL's regular officials won't be in action when the season kicks off on Wednesday. Hard as it is to believe, the world's richest and most powerful sports league will entrust its product to officials who aren't even at the top level in college!


NFL executive Ray Anderson has told the 32 teams that negotiations between the league and the officials' union are at a standstill, and replacements will be on the field for the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants season opener.

That's like embarking on a trip in your luxury sedan with a set of "doughnuts" on the wheels. Not only does it look terrible, but the ride won't be nearly as smooth.

"We are not surprised, based on Ray Anderson's statements … that the NFL was not going to reach out to us," union spokesman Michael Arnold said. "However, this is consistent with the NFL's negotiating strategy, which has been 'Take it or leave it and lock them out.' It now appears the NFL is willing to forgo any attempt to reach a deal in the last seven days before opening night."

This is the worst possible time for the NFL to experiment with inexperienced game officials. Concerns about player safety and the consequences of football violence have never been higher. Besides the violent collisions from players who are bigger, stronger and faster than ever, the game moves at a pace that replacement officials have never encountered.

"It's one of those things where you just look out there, and it's like the difference between having a high school guy play in the NFL versus an NFL guy playing in the NFL," Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe told

Players aren't very good at policing themselves, and they'll take every advantage they can get away with. Veteran officials aren't perfect, but their knowledge of the pro game is infinitely better than that of the replacements, most of whom come from college's Division II, Arena League or prep football.


"I think over time, that's the danger that we end up being in," Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said on The Jim Rome Show. "Because you don't know how refs are going to respond to certain calls, so if you have guys out there who are taking liberties with the lack of calls, then yeah, we're going to be at risk."

It doesn't make sense for the NFL to haggle with its officials over a few dollars. Pro football is the nation's most popular sport by far, with revenue from broadcast rights and other streams totaling $9 billion per year.


Instead of carrying itself like the undisputed champ of organized sports, the NFL is coming off like a cheap, fly-by-night organization.

Its players and its fans deserve better.

Deron Snyder's Loose Ball column appears regularly on The Root. Follow him on Twitter and reach him at BlackDoor Ventures, Inc.