- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2012

Watch one NFL game this fall, and something is off. The action is the same, but everything in between seems less crisp and less efficient.

With replacement referees patrolling the field, fans are wondering why it feels like so many games are taking forever. As the regular officials are still mired in a lockout, the replacements are affecting the flow and rhythm of games more than most even realize.

As the lockout drags on, so do the games. More points are being scored, and games are becoming harder to watch.

From Las Vegas, folks are noticing, as bookmakers are adjusting their expectations. The online sportsbook Bovada is adjusting its over/under lines by .5 to 1 point on each game, a result of several factors.

“While we have noticed that the replacement officials’ calls have been having an effect on the game, it has been on both the offense and the defense, so the increase in scoring cannot be solely attributed to their decisions,” Bovada sportsbook manager Kevin Bradley said. “We believe that this adjustment is because of a scoring increase in the first two weeks of the season, which has reflected the evolution of the game into a pass-happy, high-scoring league. Even if the regular officials were to return to action this weekend, we would not make any changes to our totals.”

The 1,556 points through the first two weeks are the most in NFL history. That, in addition to replacement referees, has contributed to an average game time of 3 hours, 13 minutes, an increase of five minutes over the same period in 2011. It doesn’t seem like a major difference, but the time adds up.

And while some players put on the blinders and focus on the game, others notice, whether they’re on the field or watching from home.

“Certain quarters here and there seem like, ‘Man, is this only the first quarter?’ ” Redskins linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “I know watching that Monday night game the other day, I was watching it and kind of lost track because I really wasn’t paying too much attention of it, and then we were getting ready to leave, and it was a couple hours later, and they had just finished the first quarter.”

Redskins defensive lineman Kedric Golston said longer games can be “irritating” while watching. But it’s more of an issue for fans than players, who are much more concerned about officials keeping the peace during games than keeping things going at a rapid pace.

That’s still very noticeable, especially in Washington, as the Redskins played the longest game of the season so far: 3 hours, 42 minutes on Week 1 at the New Orleans Saints. Nine games have gone over 3 hours, 20 minutes, including the Redskins’ Week 2 game at 3:26.

And while Bovada says it wouldn’t change its lines if regular officials returned for Week 3, that would likely cut back on how long games are lasting, a problem as replacements take longer to figure out penalties and assess yardage.

According to the Wall Street Journal, which looked at 10 games from Week 2 this year vs. last season, replacement officials are taking 31.3 seconds to make a penalty call, about eight seconds more than their regular counterparts.

Over the course of a game, that can add up, and in certain circumstances can change the course of a drive.

“On offense, once you get a flow going, you kind of get some plays together, and then something happens where they make a wrong call, have to change it or the ball’s spotted wrong or something like that. That’s kind of a pain,” Redskins right guard Chris Chester said.

Given how much the Redskins like to keep defenses guessing with multitalented quarterback Robert Griffin III, it’s a pain whenever there’s a delay.

“Anytime you’ve got a rhythm going and the game’s delayed, whether it’s for a review or a timeout or an injury, it always kills it a little bit,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “But it’s part of the game. It’s not just the refs; it’s everybody.”

Players may not be keenly aware of length of games, but they do notice how replay reviews are taking longer.

“They’re trying to figure it out,” Redskins middle linebacker London Fletcher said. “They’re trying to make a decision.”

Once a decision is made, there’s a marked difference. According to league stats, only 34.9 percent of challenges have led to calls being overturned, compared with 52.6 percent for all of the 2011 season.

The NFL and its officials’ union are squabbling over a new collective-bargaining agreement, with the main point of contention being the officials’ pensions. Unlike in other major professional sports leagues, NFL officials are only part-time employees.

According to an NFL Referees Association press release sent out earlier this month, the league rejected a request to “grandfather” the current pension-benefits plan. Keeping the current benefits for officials would cost the league about of 1 percent of its $9 billion in revenues, the NFLRA said.

Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall joked earlier in the week that he didn’t know what the NFL and the officials were fighting over, but he and his teammates would love to pitch in money to get a deal done.

Players are concerned about safety with the replacement officials, but Golston isn’t too worried about games dragging on.

“I don’t think you consciously know it. I mean you understand that they take a little bit longer to deliberate and just the operation of the game,” he said. “I think at this point, people are just trying to pile on just anything that’s different.”

But given that the integrity of games are being brought into question, it’s one of a whole host of issues with replacement officials.

“That’s what you’re going to get. These guys haven’t had time to train for an NFL game,” Alexander said. “They’re rookies. All of them are rookies, so they’re going to have rookie tempo, rookie mistakes, and we’re going to continue to see this until they can get hopefully six, seven games under their belt and start feeling better about it.”

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