Granted, this was written before the Seattle–Green Bay game, where it was obvious to all that the replacement refs blew not only the touchdown call but missed an egregious example of offensive pass interference that allowed it to happen, but the author makes the case that the biggest problem with the replacements wasn’t their bad calls but that they failed to earn the respect of the players and coaches. The opener:
There’s a hilarious, deeply uncomfortable clip from a Giants–Patriots preseason game this year that gets to the heart of the problem the NFL is having with its replacement referees — an issue that has quickly become one of the dominant stories of the nascent NFL season. It’s of scab ref Don King (not that Don King, though that might have been fun) struggling to find the words to announce a penalty. “We have fouls by both teams during the kick. We have illegal shift by the kicking team . . . Correction on the reporting of the foul. Both teams were . . . ” It is like watching man evolve — an ape grappling with a stick. Fans began booing on the spot.
Of all the issues involving the scab referees, the main problem isn’t that they have blown a ton of calls (regular officials do that, too, and replay mitigates the worst offenses in either case). The biggest concern is that the replacement refs have proved terrible at projecting authority. The players don’t respect them, and coaches have been screaming at them (to the point that the NFL demanded they dial it back). The result has been chaos: blatant disregard for basic rules, rampant fights, and all sorts of unmentionable things happening at the bottom of the pile.
The dirty secret in all of this is that a referee’s authority derives largely from his presentation. The job is a performance. Last season, there were roughly thirteen penalties for every four quarters, and refs also have to halt the action to reset the play clock, review calls that are officially challenged by a coach, and accept time-outs. That makes for considerable time in front of the cameras. “Someone once said that the referee on a professional football game gets more airtime than some actors do,” says former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit, who was a ref in the league for 23 years. Making it look like you’re in charge is therefore critical. And the scab refs are failing dramatically.