The biggest story of the 2012 NFL season thus far is the referee lockout. Due to failed negotiations about payment plans for the officials, a noticeably inferior staff has been employed to start the season. Despite constant resistance from players and coaches, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to budge on the situation.
Now a quarter of the way through the young season, it is already time for the NFL to administer changes to the current referee ordeal. Here's why:
Length of Games
In case you hadn't noticed, games are taking a lot longer to complete this year. Any casual observer would notice that the referees seem to lack confidence in their decisions. The indecisiveness causes them to more frequently huddle up to try to get the calls right the first time.
In their defense, the referees have the right intention: to make the right call on the field in real time. But so far they have lacked the ability to do so. As a result, games are dragging on longer than they're scheduled for.
The fact of the matter is, games are less entertaining the more they are drawn out between actual playing time. The replacement officials have done a poor job of maintaining game flow and often look uncertain during crucial moments.
Additionally, teams are less able to capitalize on momentum during games because the refs take too long to make decisions. The ability to control the game tempo and flow often dictates the victor. The current officials have stripped teams of that capability.
Violence and Injury Risk
The players lack respect for the new officials. It follows that the players have less concern for the rules of the game because they don't have faith in those enforcing the rules.
The NFL has been working so hard to make the game safer by altering rules about contact and cracking down on helmet-to-helmet collisions. Without proper officials to strictly and consistently enforce the rules, the athletes are at greater risk.
This year, throws over the middle feel a bit more like the early 2000s, when defensive backs were launching their bodies into defenseless receivers to pry the ball free. Despite the NFL's effort to reduce concussions and other injuries, the organization has a big problem on its hands with safety enforcement.
The longer the rent-a-refs are employed, the longer our most dear athletes are at high risk.
Integrity of the Game
What draws fans to the NFL? The spirit of competition and flashy athleticism. The replacement referees have compromised the integrity of the game by calling penalties when unnecessary and even making incorrect calls that decide games.
For example, the contest between the Ravens and Patriots was largely impacted by official decisions throughout all four quarters.
Yet, Sunday night's game easily fell in the shadow of the Monday night showdown between the Seahawks and Packers.
In a tight game especially, every fan hopes that the play on the field will decide the game. On Monday, the replacement officials took the game out of players' hands.
When time expired, the official ruling that Seahawks WR Golden Tate secured the game winning touchdown pass from QB Russel Wilson was made on the field. A stunned Green Bay team rightfully exited the field in utter dismay, sure that they had a right to the victory.
The video footage makes it fairly apparent that Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings came down with Wilson's pass. Yet, the referees awarded the victory to Seattle and robbed Green Bay of a valuable road win.
How much longer can NFL teams expect to want to play to current standards? If elite franchises such as Green Bay feel that their chances are legitimately compromised by an officiating crew, the NFL has cause for concern.
As an NFL fan, all one can ask is that one side reaches a compromise so the true competitive air of the game will return.