When the NFL preseason rolls around in early August, we may not get to see our favorite zebras running around the field, hucking yellow laundry where they see fit. If the NFL and the NFLRA can’t come to an agreement, it’s likely that the NFL will bring in officials from college football (don’t worry, word is they’ll stay out of the big conferences). As with most things in life, there’s pros and cons to bringing in replacement officials.
The best part about this story is that we probably won’t care much about who’s officiating games once games actually begin. The NFL is presented with a rare challenge to quickly train replacement refs that may or may not be used in games, but I don’t expect those replacements to be a large drop off in quality from the ones we’re used to seeing on the field. Then again, it can’t get any worse than the following official’s attempt to explain a series of penalties.
On the other hand, replacement officials won’t be any better than the NFL’s standard issue zebras. They’ll still blow calls that are obvious to everyone in the stands and at home in the worst possible scenarios. As fans, you’ll still be dropping in at TGS to read our most recent article bashing an official for blowing possibly the biggest call in NFL history. Subjectivity always breads controversy, and replacement refs won’t fix that facet of the game.
While this labor dispute doesn’t threaten the entire NFL season, it could get very ugly on the legal front. Much like last year’s lockout, both the NFL and the NFLRA are beginning to sling a lot of mud back and forth over the battle lines. The NFLRA suffers mightily from a poor position. In leverage terms, the NFL can very quickly and simply replace officials, unlike the players of the NFLPA. This one could get ugly, and Roger Goodell and company have a very good track record in favor of the owners.