As far as I'm concerned, the problems with the NFL's replacement refs are something of a self-fulfilling prophesy.
As soon as the league announced the plan to use lower-level college refs in place of the "striking" regular officials, the media, the players and the coaches all started howling about the disaster this experiment would be, about the chaos that would reign on the field, about the games that would be decided by officials' errors.
Now we're being treated to video highlight after video highlight of coaches screaming at the officials, players getting into fights after the whistle, referee's fumbling through decisions and calls.
Well guess what? If the media and coaches had been respectful of the replacement refs from the start, if the replacement refs themselves hadn't felt like they were staring down the barrel of the gun from the start. If the players didn't feel they could push the replacements around, take advantage of their vulnerable position, we wouldn't see chaos on the field. If the League had made it clear that it would back the replacement officials to the hilt, maybe we wouldn't be in this mess.
All refs make mistakes. All officials get some judgment calls right and some wrong. We've seen awful calls made by professional referees and umpires in every sport every year. These fill-in guys in the NFL are no different.
What's different is that they go onto the field knowing that every stumble they make in announcing a call, every extra second they take to work out the right decision, every mistake they make is going to be trumpeted all over the media forever and a day. In a way that would never happen to the regular guys.
And they know further that the players are going to push them and test them and mess with them in ways that no player would ever mess with the regular officials. Worse still, these replacement guys have no confidence that, if they do take a firm stand, maybe toss a player for inappropriate behaviour (as a regular ref would do), they will be supported by the League.
Worse still, the coaches (the people who are supposed to be setting an example on appropriate and respectful behaviour for the players) have decided that it's open season on these fill-ins, that the normal rules don't hold with these less experienced guys.
My point is that the replacement officials were in a no-win situation from the beginning. They are facing challenges and scrutiny that no regular official has ever faced.
If I'm a ref for one of this weekend's games, I toss the first player or coach that crosses a line (by getting into a pushing match after the whistle or mouthing off at the officiating crew) no matter who he is. I make it clear that I'm going to control the game and that I expect respect from start to finish.
I wonder what would happen if a ref were to do that? You know, toss a Tom Brady or a Bill Belichick in the first five minutes of the game for mouthing off? Do you think they'd refuse to leave? Do you think they'd file an instant protest? Do you think their entire team would walk off and refuse to play the rest of the game?
I'm not saying that these replacements have been perfect, not even that they've been great. But what I am saying is that they've been targeted from the second they walked onto the field for the first game and, under those circumstances, there really wasn't ever a chance for them to be successful.
And the players, coaches and media seem to be willing to do everything they can to make them fail.