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While the song isn’t used anymore in the NFL, chances are if you ever watched a football game growing up, you heard Hank Williams Jr. belt out, “Are you ready for some football?”
But, for the first time in my lifetime, the answer to the question is, “No.”
Honestly, this season scares me. In case you haven’t noticed, there has been somewhat subpar refereeing this season due to replacement referees.
The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell have yet to reach an agreement with their referee crew, forcing the use of replacement referees for preseason games.
Although the NFL offered a new deal with the refereeing union, the two parties were not able to reach a collective bargaining agreement. Hence, we have a lockout. Now, replacement referees have been called up from colleges and high schools for preseason games.
With the start of the regular season less than two weeks away, the question arises of whether the replacement referees will continue into the regular season or if the labor disputes will be resolved before kickoff.
While the replacements have been somewhat trained, they have not undergone the rigorous preparation that the NFL referees have, and they are often pulled from college, where rules vary.
“We want to make sure we’re getting the best calls and getting the best referees we can get on each and every game,” Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz said to ESPN. “I actually heard one of the refs only reffed glorified high school games…. And I don’t even know what that means, essentially. I just want to make sure we’re getting the best guys out there reffing these games.”
From botching coin tosses to missing calls, the replacements (among them the first woman referee in NFL history) have negatively affected games. Beyond that, they leave many wondering how the regular season will look if an agreement is not reached.
For many fans, myself included, the preseason is somewhat of a joke. Obviously, the results do not count. Congratulations on your third-string team beating that other third-string team. But I digress, because this year, more than ever, preseason might count. Unfortunately, it might count for the wrong reasons.
Last year, NFL referee Undrey Walsh noticed that Giants running back D.J. Ware had a concussion. Upon coming to this realization, he made Ware leave the game and helped him off the field. As an NFL referee, one must undergo extensive training to recognize such symptoms. In a league that is infamous for concussions and other injuries, no one but the best referees should be utilized—not just for the integrity of the game, but for the safety of the players that millions watch each week.
According to Goodell, even if the plan was changed almost immediately, the normal NFL referees would need roughly 10 days to train and be ready to officiate, as originally reported by the Associated Press.
If the time comes for a regular season with replacements, fans, players and coaches should be worried. Like every lockout before, this one is likely to come to an end. However, with the regular season so close, you have to question the NFL’s intentions. It all comes down to money, but holding out to pay the amount the NFL wishes is not worth the health risks.
Goodell says he’s ready for the regular season to start with the replacements. But, if referees are so unlikely to even call the game correctly, how will they have the talent and the instinct to notice the big problems, as Walsh did a year ago? Is Goodell ready for the possible repercussions that will manifest themselves in the form of injuries and harm to players?
Like every other question I’ve asked, the answer is simply, “No.”