SNYDER: Throw flag on NFL for a cheap shot with officials

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The NFL’s stranglehold on our collective sports’ psyche is almost incomprehensible. In a Harris Poll released earlier this year, 36 percent of sports fans chose pro football as their favorite, more than twice the number of the next two sports combined (baseball and college football, at 13 percent apiece).

The league’s Midas touch is legendary, proved again recently when it fetched an increase that’s more than 50 percent higher for broadcast rights from NBC, CBS and Fox, and a 73 percent increase from ESPN. Throw in DirecTV, and the NFL collects about $4 billion per year from TV rights. Combined with other assorted and sundry revenue streams, the league is a $9 billion beast.

But despite its majesty, might and money, the NFL is poised to start this season without its regular officials.

That’s like embarking on a trip in your luxury sedan with a set of temporary “doughnuts” on the wheels. It not only looks terrible, but the ride won’t be nearly as smooth.

Somehow, at a time when it’s preaching player safety, toning down the violence, and assuaging fears about football’s consequences, the NFL doesn’t mind using replacement officials. Players are bigger, stronger and faster than ever, while the game moves at warp speed. Yet the league is satisfied to rely on officials who aren’t even top-level in college.

The replacements are doing the best they can. But the NFL isn’t Division II, Arena League or prep football. No matter how good they were wherever they come from, they can’t excel on the fly, surrounded by similarly-inexperienced officials. The league is delusional if it thinks seven-person crews working their first NFL games will perform as well as crews with years of NFL background.

Some gaffes thus far in the exhibition season have been harmless, such as an official referring to “Atlanta” as “Arizona.” Or another official calling a holding penalty on the Giants’ Jayron Hosley while Hosley was busy returning a punt. Simple slips of the tongue or getting jersey numbers wrong are pretty insignificant.

But other mistakes can mean victory for teams or agony for players. I’m talking about egregious errors that can lead to a serious advantage, a serious injury or both.

We saw as much last week in the Cowboys-Chargers game, when Dallas wideout Andre Holmes took a helmet-to-helmet hit from San Diego safety Eric Weddle. Officials threw the flag but allowed the Chargers to retain possession via interception; the proper call would have wiped out the pick and given Dallas the ball at San Diego’s 15. The incorrect call stood, despite the mandatory replay review that applies to all turnovers.

In Pittsburgh the next night, Indianapolis wideout Austin Collie suffered blows to the head on separate plays, once from Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and once from Steelers linebackers Larry Foote.

Collie couldn’t have been more “defenseless” if he was blindfolded with both hands tied behind his back. Yet neither Taylor nor Foote drew a penalty.

Football is dangerous enough when played within the rules. If players are allowed to stretch the boundaries — and they can barely avoid it as highly compensated, highly competitive athletes — the game could revert to the anything-goes standard of decades past.

Players’ safety or the NFL’s integrity is reason enough by itself for the league to end the lockout and reach an agreement with the referee’s union. But the one-two combination of those issues should be enough to knock some sense into the NFL. Unfortunately, it’s not, and the prospect of replacement officials calling Week 1 games appears more likely.

“We’re anxious to get a deal done, but it has to get done that it’s going to help us for the long term,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the Associated Press on Thursday at a fantasy football event in New York. “It’s not a short-term issue.”

That’s easy for him to say. His success this season doesn’t rise and fall on 17 (mostly) Sundays. His NFL career isn’t one snap away from coming to an end. He has one of the sport’s longest guaranteed contracts, running through 2018.

The world’s richest and most powerful sports outfit is coming off like a cheap, two-bit organization in haggling with its officials. The NFL is the undisputed, heavyweight champ of organized sports. But in this case it’s the Lingerie League.

Just not as good-looking.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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