The biggest problem that the NFL is having with its replacement officials is not rules and their interpretation, but game administration and respect. The players and coaches are like school kids with a substitute teacher. They are pushing the envelope as much as possible in respect to behavior and play.
As a high school official who does the occasional men’s flag football game, I can say firsthand that the hardest thing about the job is gaining the players and coaches’ respect. Whenever they see a new guy, he is fresh meat. They won’t question the experienced officials, only those they have never seen. I have been on both sides of it. To me, what is happening in the NFL is no surprise at all.
Usually when the NFL breaks in a new official, he comes from a high level college football conference. He is placed with an experienced crew. He is never paired with another rookie. He will be given a position that is not exactly near the heavy action on the line of scrimmage. It is very rare that he is given the responsibility of referee.
This is so that if anything goes wrong, the other six can correct him and to help a rookie get used to the speed of the game. As they progress, more responsibility is given to them.
Now, the NFL is putting seven rookies from lower level college on the field at the same time. None of them have the experience of high level college to prepare them. Almost all of them are only a step up from me. They are doing the best they can, but the game is just too fast and rules are too complicated for them.
The players know it. They used the first week of the season to see how games were going to be called then adjusted their play to take advantage of it. Defensive backs are being more aggressive in pass coverage. Defensive linemen know that they can get away with a little bit more in hitting the quarterback. There is more pushing and shoving between plays.
The coaches know it. They are not afraid to question calls and decisions because almost all of them have more NFL experience than the officials. It is the NFL Films scene where Houston Oilers head coach Jerry Glanville asked for the college official. When the official came over, Glanville made his famous ‘not for long’ quote about job security that we’ve heard a million times.
Until the replacements earn respect or regular officials come back, this is what we can come to expect. Players will bend the rules. Coaches will question calls and become frustrated. There will be more skirmishes among players and teams. Games will be delayed by on-field officials’ discussions and replay challenges. All of this is because the replacement officials do not have the respect of players and coaches.
It might get better. It might get worse.
It needs to be stopped by bringing back the regulars.