Is the NFL having a referee crisis? |
Breakfast With Benz

Is the NFL having a referee crisis?

Tim Benz
Referee Gene Steratore stands of the field before an NFL game between the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Cleveland. The Bengals won 23-10. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Referees are giving up on the NFL faster than Pittsburgh baseball fans are giving up on the Pirates.

Last week’s retirement of Washington, Pa., product Gene Steratore marked the fourth departure of a well-established NFL referee this offseason. He joins the likes of Ed Hochuli, Jeff Triplette and Terry McAulay.

Four other officials who were not referees left the NFL ranks, too.

Following a year where so much criticism of officiating came down upon the zebras — especially after one call in particular — perhaps this comes as good news to many football fans.

It probably shouldn’t. Each of those referees had 15-28 years of experience. While finding younger refs in better shape has been long discussed in the NFL, I haven’t heard that complaint about any of those four men specifically.

Especially not Hochuli. I mean, come on, his biceps are legendary . They have their own Twitter page for crying out loud!

Every NFL fan has had their gripes with every one of these guys over the years. But based on NFL evaluations, they must be doing their jobs better than many of the others. There are six combined Super Bowl refereeing appearances in that group.

That leads to a few questions: Does the NFL have a referee problem? What does the league do about it? And who is to blame?

As far as an answer to the first question goes, it’s “yes.” There is a problem.

If those are the good ones, then how bad are the other guys going to be? We got a taste of that during the replacement referee debacle of 2012, remember?

That last question appears to be easy. If the league is looking to blame somebody, maybe they should blame their own television partners. Steratore is going to CBS, Triplette to ESPN and McAulay to NBC. They are all going to be rules analysts at those networks.

Potentially, the allure of sitting in a studio and watching games is better if the paychecks are close — or maybe even more — as opposed to taking the verbal abuse from players and coaches in bad weather conditions in a different city every week.

Another ref, Clete Blakeman, almost took the ESPN job before Triplette did.

Although, I’d caution those refs about one thing. NFL fans have gotten hip to the notion that a lot of the consternation about rules is less about who is interpreting them on game day and more about those who are writing them, enforcing them and presenting them for explanation on Monday morning.

That’s why Al Riveron and Dean Blandino have become the faces of officiating evil over recent years, more so than the guys between the white lines.

As far as what the league does about it? Pay more. That’s the only thing I can think of. Pay more and be less stringent in downgrading guys based on hairline overturned calls via a nanosecond frame of replay or a cumbersome rules interpretation.

Then again, the league doesn’t want to appease officials in the name of getting a call wrong.

The end result is, we don’t have a lot of our favorite refs to kick around anymore. And my guess is we are going to want to kick the new guys even harder.

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