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Some lessons to take away from the NFL officiating crisis
IN RETROSPECT, the situation was
So the hospital had a brilliant idea. It would bring in all the veterinarians it could find to handle the surgeries. They are doctors, too, after all. They know a spleen from a gallbladder. Everything would be just fine. But it wasn't. One patient almost died while the vets jawed for 15 minutes about how best to stop bleeding in a person. Real docs goof, too, but not every time they touch a scalpel. Big crowds gathered to demand that the hospital bring the old M.D.s back.
Not until a patient actually died when the vets mistook a sphincter for a heart valve did the hospital decide that it would give in--just enough to get the real docs back to work. And so it was that everyone hoped they wouldn't have to go through that ever again.
OK, doctors aren't football officials. The allegory does provide perspective, though. Given the ink and verbiage devoted to the NFL officiating crisis, it seemed like a life-or-death situation.
But everything's relative. The NFL owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell knew that calling a pro football game requires expertise that typical high-school referees lack. They knew the replacements would be in over their heads. But they threw them in with the lions, bears, etc., anyway. The league acted with that combination of fearlessness and myopia that never turns out well. Had the NFL not refused to spend less than 1 percent more of its $9 billion NFL pie to maintain top-level officiating, all this could have been avoided.
Mr. Goodell and the NFL were the appropriate targets for the anger heaped on the replacement refs. These stand-in officials are hardly the villains just about everyone painted them. Sure, they got paid for their services, but it couldn't have been enough, given the abuse they endured for three weeks. Players treated the call-ups the way schoolchildren treat a substitute teacher--behaving poorly and offering no respect. Everybody else questioned everything from their eyesight to their IQs to their manhood. But, really, they were put in an untenable situation.
The league is also liable, then, for cheating the fans out of the quality football they expect and pay for--whether through exorbitant ticket prices or the endless TV commercials that disrupt enjoyment of the game.
The games resume this weekend with actual NFL officials, and they'll be welcomed back with open arms in a most bizarre display of affection--until their first blown call.