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The scab officials did an utterly abysmal job in last weekend’s NFL games. But nothing reached the extreme incompetence of last night’s Denver-Atlanta game, and that doesn’t even count the Broncos not showing up. Essentially, the first half of that game was unwatchable between the continued missed calls and official conferences to figure out what to do, the challenges on obvious referee screwups, and the near brawl that broke out which the officials were totally unable to control. The sports world has had enough; this morning brought the biggest condemnation from an ESPN writer yet. Players and coaches are biting their tongues because they don’t want to get fined, fanbases are outraged. The integrity of the game is at stake, to the extent it has any left.

This is all because Roger Goodell and the billionaire owners don’t want to pay into a referee pension plan. That’s the single important issue here.

There’s a petition beginning to circulate to pressure the NFL. I am not much of an online petition kind of guy, but in this situation, anything to helps sports fans to shout louder, the better.

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  • greylocks

    I’m not watching any more games until this is sorted out.

    I started watching last night’s game and gave up when the melee erupted. This isn’t entertainment, it’s torture.

    For those who haven’t watched the video at the link, Steve Young basically tore the NFL owners a new asshole.

    • Linnaeus

      I was very impressed with Young’s comments. He nailed it.

      • firefall

        He did – and I fear he’s correct about inelastic demand, which means the owners can simply shrug and carry on with it, unless the players actually take action

        • Maybe–I think this week is the test. The public relations nightmare is becoming pretty significant. This is the story of the first 2 weeks of the NFL season. NFL demand is pretty inelastic, but fans can make their voices heard and are doing so. Whether the owners are OK with allowing their product to become a joke in order to not have to pay a few pensions is the open question.

          • NonyNony

            Whether the owners are OK with allowing their product to become a joke in order to not have to pay a few pensions is the open question.

            I don’t think that’s an open question at all – it’s obvious that they are OK with that.

            The open question is whether the NFL as a joke will retain fans (and therefore money), or if fans will walk away in disgust and find something else to do with their time.

            It may be possible that the owners could turn the NFL into a joke and the fans would continue to spend money on it while grumbling about it. I think this is unlikely, but it’s possible. That seems to be what the owners are banking on, because otherwise the lock-out strategy doesn’t make any sense.

          • After last night, I’m sort of reconsidering just how inelastic the demand for the NFL is, though. Because the long delays and interruption to play is making watching the games a pretty boring experience if you don’t have a rooting interest in them. Maybe that’s not an issue for the SUnday afternoon games when there’s nothing else on TV, but I wonder if it won’t lead to people turning the primetime games off out of sheer disinterest.

            • firefall

              Well yes, I got bored enough that I wandered off to watch the premiere of some dreadful pseudo-SF conspiracy thriller on one of the free to air channels (and still more interesting than the football).

              • I turned it off before halftime and watched Until the Light Takes Us. Watching a documentary about black metal losers burning 1000 year old Norwegian churches seemed less depressing than watching that spectacle any longer.

                • dl


                • I turned it off and went to bed. I’ll sacrifice some sleep and deal with the misery of putting kids onthe schoolbus in a more-tired-than-I-like state for actually being entertained, but not to force myself to watch that shit.

          • greylocks

            Demand has been pretty elastic here in the Tampa area, where the Bucs are working on setting the all-time record for consecutive black-outs.

            In better markets, however, I think Young is basically right. While there will be some erosion in network television viewership, the hardcore fans who go to the games and subscribe to DirecTV so they can get every last fucking game whether it’s worth watching or not are not going to give up their weekly fix.

            I’d like to be wrong, but I fear that I’m not.

            • Heron

              It’s something we’ll have to wait a see about. It’s the start of the season so a lot of the people filling these stadiums right now probably bought their tickets months ago. When you spend a couple hundred bucks on tickets, you’re going to go to the stadium and watch the game, even if you think you’re going to have a bad time of it, just to feel you haven’t thrown away your money. If people keep buying tickets to these games in large numbers as the season progresses, then Young will have been right.

              • elm

                Is ticket sales the relevant metric here? isn’t the money made on TV deals? So, viewership should be the issue I would think.

                • Heron

                  Certainly; most of the money’s in TV. I was just saying that we can’t really look at game attendance right now as an indication of how annoyed the fans are because it’s early enough that most of the attendees probably bought those tickets before they’d even heard of the ref strike.

                  As to TV, I’d be surprised if football watchers continued to put up with this level of ineptitude, particularly when it’s being caused purely by management’s decision to renege on previous agreements, and when the sports commentators are as negative towards management’s position as they are on this. I also think, though, that we’re not going to see too drastic a drop off in tv viewership given that the season is still being broadcast, as opposed to previous attempts at strike-breaking that cancelled or shortened seasons and drove away big numbers of fans immediately as a result.

          • Heron

            I don’t know; demand is only ever inelastic up to a point. I’d imagine the people running baseball thought the same thing back in the 90s when they put their foot down over a strike and ended up losing 50% of their viewership in a year. I’d imagine the folks running hockey thought the same thing before their 90s strike, which effectively killed interest in US hockey for a decade. This is just 2 weeks in; right now fans are still outraged but not yet disgusted enough to walk away, and the ticket purchasers are basically stuck with the seats they’ve bought, so we probably won’t see greatly reduced gate revenues either. The NFL actually kept the season running as well, contra the NHL and MLB, which means we won’t see fans going cold turkey and realizing they don’t need or want to come back like what happened in those two strikes. In the long run though, if this continues for half or even a whole season, I’m thinking we’ll see some significant fan-flight hitting both viewership and ticket sales.

            There’s a limit beyond which people will just say “enough” and find something better to watch, and it’s very unlikely that most football fans are going to side with a bunch of billionaires trying to renege on a pension deal with a bunch of working stiffs whose only job is to make sure their favorite game is fair, enjoyable for the viewers, and safe for the players.

        • mark f

          That’s my assessment: The refs’ leverage is competence and their ability to hold out. Goodell’s leverage is not giving a fuck. Unless and until something forces him to, he’s got the trump card.

          • Scott Lemieux

            See also: dealing with reactionaries in Congress passim. Just not giving a shit about anything but your own paycheck is a huge source of leverage.

            • Murc

              The power of just not caring gives you enormous freedom. In some ways, its the ultimate freedom.

        • Stan Gable

          There’s no alternative football league so it’s not like habitual viewers can abandon the NFL and still watch football but I’d assume that losing out on marginal/occasional viewers will do some damage with the league’s advertisers & broadcasters.

          • wjts

            There’s always college ball.

      • Max Daru

        The video of his comments here.

  • Jim

    Steve Young called it as he saw it, after the game:

    “The bottom line is they don’t care. Player safety? Doesn’t matter in this case. Bringing in Division III officials? Doesn’t matter. Because in the end, you’re still going to watch the game. There’s nothing that changes the demand for the NFL,” he said. “So they want to break the union or send a message to them, they don’t care about player safety. It doesn’t affect the desire for the game. If it affected the desire for the game, they’d come up with a few extra million dollars.”

    I’m not sure it comes across in print, but he was pretty pissed off about it.

    • Jim

      Ah, sorry to duplicate. I saw the ESPN columnist description, didn’t realize they also included the post-game commentary.

  • Joshua

    The NFL is risking a lot here. One reason why the sport is so popular is because they always worked extra hard to ensure “the product on the field” is top-notch at all times. If people wanted to see terrible referees screw up a game they can watch the NBA.

    • This is more or less true. People seem to underestimate the extent to which the astronomical popularity of the NFL is directly related to how very high quality the football itself has become. There might not be any alternative to the NFL for professional football, but if the incompetent refs make watching a random MNF matchup less appealing for viewers who aren’t fans of the two teams, it’s totally within the realm of possibility that people will find other things to do with their time. The question is whether the refs will be able to hold out that long, I guess.

      • mpowell

        Well, given that almost all of them have other jobs, I think they probably can. I think the NFL is probably going to lose this one. The replacement refs are not going to get significantly better in just a few weeks.

        • Joshua

          If anything they have gotten worse, although it’s probably a matter of the coaches and players exploiting the gaps in the referees’ skills and knowledge.

          • mpowell

            Actually, that is precisely what it is. All the work the league has done to get the league to where it is in terms of passing and player safety, esp. QB safety, is being compromised right now.

    • efgoldman

      I wonder how long its going to take to pull the scab games off the board, if they haven’t a;ready?
      The NFL, of course, claims not to care, and to abhor betting. But this is two huge, immovable financial titans…
      No, I don’t expect a horse head in Goodel’s bed, but there are lots of ways to put pressure. For instance, the President of the Senate is from NV….

      • efgoldman

        Duh, Majority leader, not president….

      • Richard

        They haven’t pulled scab games of the betting boards at Vegas or anywhere else. And as long as the volume of betting is high, they wont. Since the league gets no direct benefit from gambling, I dont see how the casinos and sports books are going to be able to pressure the league to settle.

        • firefall


      • wengler

        I know it would be hard to tell, but the scab refs are in a great position to get a quick payday by throwing some games.

        Of course this would be a horrible thing for the NFL, but their owners are blinded by greed over reason.

  • thusbloggedanderson

    Pretty bad. The first Denver TD, you could literally see the green turf flying when his second foot came down, and somehow the ref standing RIGHT THERE missed it.

    (I was gloating for Denver to lose, but not like that.)

  • howard

    Erik, why are you even watching? You are essentially crossing a picket line….

    • John

      Unless you’re a Nielsen household or are actually going to games, I don’t see that it’s necessarily a big deal.

      • howard

        It’s a matter of values. I don’t cross picket lines, period, case closed. I’m surprised that erik does.

        Whether anyone else can tell or not, I can.

        • My values consist of doing whatever is in my power to get those refs a contract.

        • Richard

          If you’re going to be a purist about it, you’re going to do a lot of boycotting of sports events. At almost every venue across the country, there are union disputes with stage hands, delivery guys, concession vendors,etc. Sometimes there are strikes, sometimes there are organizational disputes. If your criteria is you wont watch a sporting event when there is a labor dispute going on, you might as well turn the tv off.

          In the games I had watched before last night, I thought the officiating had been competent. But I have to agree that the officiating last night was awfully poor.

          • Craigo

            The worst call I have seen yet has been defensive pass interference on a cornerback who literally did not touch the receiver – in fact, the receiver was not contacted at all before the ball was in his hands. Even the announcing crew, who had gone out of their way to note that the scabs had not shit themselves in that game to that point, were befuddled.

            The hidden atrocity here is how bad the scabs are at spotting the ball. There’s been multiple bad spots (several later overturned) in the half dozen games I’ve watched this year, whereas last year it was rare enough that I could still get mad at the refs about it.

          • djw

            Around halftime last night I thought “this will be the game even Richard won’t defend”.

            • Richard

              You were right about that. I still stick by my view that the officiating in the previous four games I watched wasn’t that bad but last night was bad.

              I had also expected the officiating to get better as the refs got more experience but if last night was the test, that wasn’t the case.

              • wengler

                As you’ve seen, the refereeing has been highly variable.

        • CaptBackslap

          That doesn’t make a damned bit of sense, unless you’re some sort of wizard who can influence the world with your thoughts, in which case you’ll probably wish me into the cornfield for this comment.

          • Walt

            Notice CaptBackslap hasn’t commented since then…

    • Because I am far more concerned with doing what I can do get these refs a contract than some principle that is pretty meaningless in this case. I could not watch the games and feel good about my own righteousness as a labor guy. Or I can watch them and write about the incompetence of the scab refs to a large audience. The latter seems more effective to me.

      • howard

        Our comments crossed in the ether and my flight is about to depart, so more later.

      • To go further, I’ll adapt the argument I always use when my wife asks me why I watch college football even though I hate the NCAA, which is basically that my not watching won’t do anything, ever. If there was some sort of mass movement to boycott viewing until players get paid, I’d happily join it, but until there is my righteous protest won’t even be noticed by the suits, and after a while I’ll just be some guy who doesn’t watch college football, so then they’ll have that reason not to care about my viewpoint.

        • Richard

          I agree. I dont join pointless protests just to feed my inner virtue. In the absence of a mass protest, my not watching a football game wont do anything.

      • howard

        so now that i’ve had a chance to catch back up, i’ll say that when i see universal disagreement with my position, it’s certainly worth asking whether i’m wrong.

        but call me a narcissist, but i don’t think i am!

        what i always learned is that morality is best demonstrated by how you behave when no one is watching.

        it’s true: whether i watch the nfl or not (and as a side note, i’m a giants fan, not a football fan, especially given what we now know about concussions, so i’m not an obsessive watcher of the game) will make no difference whatsoever to the outcome.

        but by watching the games, i contend that you are encouraging the owners and goodell into a hardline position: if football fans will accept shoddy reffing as the new normal, then what incentive does ownership have to settle?

        and while it’s true that me individually not watching makes no difference at all, it’s not true that if every football fan who feels that this is “atrocious” stops watching it would make no difference.

        as for erik’s position in particular, which is different than everyone else’s: no offense, erik. i enjoy reading you and i enjoy reading lgm, but frankly: it’s a drop in the bucket.

        in other words, your weighing in with your first-hand observations is about as meaningless as my not watching: the nfl could care less what erik loomis individually does (just as it could care less about what i do).

        after all: you don’t live in chicago, you’re not a public school teacher, you don’t have children in the chicago public school system, and yet you feel free to weigh in on the teacher’s strike (nor am i saying you shouldn’t!).

        you don’t have to watch the games to know that scab refs suck: scabs suck. you could just as readily make the same point without watching the games (i, for example, have no doubt that the scabs suck, without having watched one minute of the first two weeks of the season).

        so call me pigheaded, but i intend to keep not watching the nfl until the real refs have a real deal: that’s what solidarity is all about.

  • mark f

    I only watched about a quarter of the game, from the middle of 2Q up until Atlanta went up 27-7, and in that time I saw Denver awarded an extra six yards on a penalty and a five minute conference to figure out from where another foul should be measured. Awful.

  • Dirk Gently

    As a Denver fan, understandably I was upset when what should have been a marquis match-up was headed towards a humiliating blowout with those four turnovers….

    But in the end I was WAY more upset at these officials’ incompetence. Between a phantom p.i. on Tony Carter that kept a Falcons TD drive alive, and the myriad idiotic stoppages that benefitted the Denver defense when the Falcons were rolling, I feel like the officiating got in the way of what could have been either a miraculous Denver comeback OR an Atlanta beatdown. As it was, the refs made the game strange, overlong, and just so filled with uncertainty that I don’t feel like either team can really come away from that and have any clear assessment of where they stand.

    Is Denver an elite team who had a horrible night, or are they overrated? Is Atlanta emerging as the answer to a seemingly in-charge Niners team, or did they merely benefit from an uncharacteristic Manning meltdown? Was their second half slowdown due to the officials stalling the game, or is Denver’s defense really that good? The officials made it so that we can’t really tell.

    • norbizness

      One thing that the officials’ incompetence can’t hide is that Manning’s “playcalling on the field” does not necessarily work when you’re a hired gun instead of the long-term QB around which talent has been procured. His overconfidence in sussing out defensive formations pretty much led to that first quarter disaster.

      • Cody

        I think it’s safe to say he’s still a bit rusty. Atlanta’s defense did a very good job disguising their formations, and Manning obviously wasn’t prepared. As indicated by the second half though, Manning is difficult to fool multiple times. Atlanta really went all out in a complex game plan, and still had a close game.

        Imagine the game without those 3 picks… would’ve been slaughter probably.

        • norbizness

          Atlanta has a decent defense, but Manning is going up against my Texans next week. Obviously they’ve played two shit teams already, but they have a defensive line that can pressure somebody consistently without blitzes, and won’t need all sorts of Falcon-like disguises. Which means, in general, that he’s just dicking around for 20+ seconds at the line in such a case.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Last night, I think he was mostly trying to get the right directions sent to his Buick.

          • Cody

            Lest not forget Manning has pretty much owned the Texans for a long time. I’m sure they still have nightmares about his ghost holding them into 2nd place in the AFC South forever..

            Anyways, disguises aren’t a crutch against Manning. They’re the only option. If you play him straight up, he’s going to make the right play. It will be an interesting match-up. I don’t have much confidence in the Texans though, Matt Schaub always finds a way to fail…

            • Dirk Gently

              The Texans look terrific so far, but they have a penchant for underachieving AND this game is at Mile High. I’d be surprised if we see Manning throw as carelessly as he did last night.

              And Cody’s comments get right to what I was driving at: it was impossible to tell whether Denver was making great defensive stops late, or whether the refs managed to stall Atlanta with their dithering. If it’s the former, then without the phantom p.i. we might have seen Manning pull it out; without the dithering, we might have seen Atlanta bury Denver due to those horrible mistakes. We just don’t know.

              And yes, also as a Bronco fan I would have liked to see what might have happened if Manning had not thrown those three INT’s….that’s a whole different ball game.

        • mpowell

          I agree with this. He just looked rusty to me. I’m not sure exactly where the problem was, but he made a number of questionable decisions/bad throws and 3 of them lead to picks. I don’t think the problem was with his receivers or line, he was just throwing into the wrong coverages.

          That fumble recovery was also bullshit. I don’t know how Denver falls on the ball and comes up with it from the bottom of the pile and Atlanta gets the ball. Oh right, these refs are fucking terrible.

    • Joe

      Turned out to be a close game & if the defense stopped them one time (with or without “help”), Manning — who looked like his puppy died or something when the camera showed him — could have won it. Manning probably had an off game. His brother had an off 1/2.

  • Scott Lemieux

    Are you saying that Richard was a mistaken when he asserted that because regular NFL officials don’t officiate non-existent games on Tuesdays (and hence are “part time”) the scabs will be almost as good?

    In related news, the umpiring of intramural softball games I did means that I could be a major league umpire with a couple week’s practice.

    • Richard

      Scott, I think you mischaracterize what I have written. But having watched the game last night, I concede that the officiating was bad.

    • terry

      Thanks for this.

  • MikeJake

    I wonder if gambling volume in Vegas will hold steady this week, or if we’ll see a hit based on the uncertainty surrounding the officiating. Have any covers been ruined because of blown calls?

    • Richard

      I’m not sure that gamblers are going to stop betting because of the greater uncertainty due to poor officiating. However, even if that happened, the league wont care because it doesn’t get money from betting. The question is whether tv viewership will go down because of the officiating. So far, that hasn’t been the case but I have no idea whether that will hold in the future.

      • MikeJake

        I think the league cares. Whether they want to admit it or not, gambling is a significant driver of the league’s popularity. In fact, the NFL has finally decided to allow limited casino advertising.

        • Sherm

          Yeah, the league cares so little about gambling that it mandates injury reports for the gamblers’ benefit and fines teams for failing to report injuries.

          • Richard

            But they dont get any revenue from gambling. I dont think a slight decrease in betting is going to have any effect on getting the league to settle with the refs (assuming, of course, that there is a slight decrease). My guess is that betting will remain about the same – the poor officiating is just one more variable for gamblers to consider.

            • mark f

              But how much does gambling drive viewership? Most people don’t have a rooting interest in many games absent fantasy/bookies/pick-em.

              • Richard

                I dont know the answer to that. My guess is that sports book gambling has a relatively minimal effect on viewership. What has a larger effect is weekly football pools at the office. On the weeks when I throw in my $5 and pick games, i’m much more likely to watch some of the games on tv and I dont think I’m alone in that. Are office football pools or fantasy league participation down because of the ref strike? I doubt it.

            • firefall

              But they dont officially get any revenue from gambling as an organisation, only as individuals

  • tucker

    Stopped by the local watering hole on my way home to watch the first quarter (I live on the left coast) and was shocked by Manning’s lack of control of the ball and the poor decisions. In some ways it was reminiscent of last year Dan Marino. Got home set the DVR had diner. Turned it on and half time was just starting. This was about an hour and a half later. Couldn’t figure out how the first half could have taken that long. Now I know.

  • Bitter Scribe

    I hate to be one of those guys who politicizes everything, but still, I can’t help wondering if this whole situation might not play, at least a little bit, against the ongoing demonization of organized labor.

    Football fans are seeing firsthand the result of management intransigence and just-because-we-can squeezing of employees. And they don’t like it. I hope at least a few of them make the connection to the larger world.

    • mark f

      I was trying to formulate this same thought for a comment in the latest CTU strike thread. Well said.

  • Froley

    Ashley Fox in that ESPN article points out that defensive holding on a pass play is being ignored (the refs are still making seemingly random pass interference calls). I noticed the absence of defensive holding calls in the preseason so I wonder if there might have been a non-public league directive to the scab refs to not call it. It doesn’t make sense though — the NFL seems happy with having a passing-heavy league.

    • tonycpsu

      Is there any evidence that teams are passing more in response to these non-calls? I would think that coaches would be changing their game plans to get some advantage from the scab refs while they’re still around.

      It’s getting to the point where the Super Bowl champion is going to have an asterisk after their name in the record books. It’s not just that the scabs are worse — though they most certainly are — it’s that because they’re short-timers and they know it, their incentive to not intentionally miss calls to help their favorite team, their fantasy team, or the team they placed a bet on that morning is virtually zero.

      Even if these guys were making bad calls as frequently or less frequently than the real refs, the potential for malice is much higher. The fact that Goodell risked the life of the golden goose over a few pennies puts him in the conversation with Gary Bettman for worst commissioner ever.

  • JR in WV

    I watched more NFL games the past weekend that usual. I only have over-the-air TV due to living in a dark hollow, and don’t get Thursday night or Monday night games. That said, the officiating Sunday was terrible.

    Passing was a crap shoot – holding might be called, or not. Interference might be called, or not. The ball spot was nearly randomly too long or too short.

    It was like watching little league umps trying to call

    • JR in WV

      Sorry about the partial post! Oops, ugly, accident. But I don’t think I’m a pro!

  • JR in WV

    I watched more NFL games the past weekend that usual. I only have over-the-air TV due to living in a dark hollow, and don’t get Thursday night or Monday night games. That said, the officiating Sunday was terrible.

    Passing was a crap shoot – holding might be called, or not. Interference might be called, or not. The ball spot was nearly randomly too long or too short.

    It was like watching little league umps trying to call MLB baseball, and not really being able to see a big league fastball. Or NBA refs trying to call fouls appropriately. (I always thought basketball was a non-contact sport?)

    It wasn’t NFL football, that’s for sure. I’m 61 and have been watching football live in person and on TV for more than 50 years. Ugly.

    I’m glad the NFL owners have never made more than about $1.49 from me – I did buy a Greenbay tee when I needed a tee shirt while on the road once, so whatever tiny slice the NFL gets on a $15 team tee at WallyWorld, that’s all.

    But I’m not a cable or dish guy, don’t go to pro games in person, so I feel free to watch, as others have said, to know how bad the “replacement” officials are, and to tell that story. I just wish it was more fun.

    Scabs suck! You would think guys in their 50s and 60s would have more pride than to go out each weekend and look that bad! But they are scabs, and have no self worth or pride. They suck!

  • The refs risk injury on the field, too. If I were an official, I would want to know there was some sort of assurance like a pension and a decent paycheck with those 300+ pounders coming at me. The NFL is ridiculous not to ensure their safety as well as the player’s safety by hiring and PAYING qualified officials. I can not watch NFL games just as easily as I don’t watch the NBA any more, or MBL, because they are boring now. The NFL was the last watchable professional sport, and it’s losing it. I can watch college ball just as easily.

    They also need to work more on player conditioning and not just relying on having big guys on the field. It used to be a sport, not a shoving match.

    • Keaaukane

      You’re thinking too small. Ignore just the NFL aspect, toward making a more International Sport.

      Overlaying Japanese Sumo wrestling on top of the American Committee-meetings-punctuated-by -violence is a real start. The refs doing ineffectual dithering adds a nice European touch. And a large number of players are African.

      Within a decade, soccer will be forgotten

  • Ramon A. Clef

    SI.com is reporting that LeSean McCoy claims a ref told him “I need you for my fantasy”.

    • tonycpsu

      Also needed for the ref’s fantasy: two wetsuits and a dildo.

      • terry


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