By Steve Silverman
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The NFL has almost gotten itself into a nasty corner. There's still time to get out of it.
The NFL and its game officials are in a contractual dispute, and while preseason games are not very important in the overall scheme of things, the regular season is just about two weeks away.
If the Giants and Cowboys kick off the season at MetLife Stadium with replacement officials on Sept. 5, the NFL will be inviting both disaster and ridicule.
Professional football is a complicated game to officiate. The game moves at a very fast pace and major infractions can take place in a heartbeat. If you are using inexperienced officials who have never seen the speed, quickness and power of NFL players, you are going to miss calls.
That's what has been going on in the preseason. Replacement officials are not prepared for what they must contend with.
They must know the rules, must know how the rules are properly interpreted and must be able to keep the game moving at a proper pace.
The replacement officials can do none of these things.
It would be one thing if the replacement officials were coming from the highest levels of college football, but they are not. They are coming from the ranks of Division III football and retirement. The replacement officials have never seen the speed that they are seeing now.
The replacement officials are missing the basics of the game.
It's not that they are making the wrong calls when they happen to look at the right spot and observe a penalty. It's that they don't know where to look, and as the regular season begins players will take advantage of the replacement officials' naiveté.
Players will start cheating and there's nothing the league can do about it -- except bring back the real game officials.
This dispute is about money. NFL officials are not full-time employees, as opposed to those who officiate Major League Baseball games, National Basketball Association games and NHL games.
The NFL and the officials have always maintained that officials don't need to be employed. Many have important jobs in the private sector.
As a result, it seems like NFL officials choose to do the job as a hobby. That does not necessarily serve the sport well.
The NFL is the richest sports league in North America by a wide margin. The amount of money officials would like to see is not exorbitant. To end this dispute without any compromise, it would cost $115,000 per team.
This is not a lot of money.
The players and coaches know that the game is being damaged and the product on the field is not as good as it would be if legitimate officials were working the game.
Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers told USA Today that the game is simply too fast for the replacement officials.
"They haven't been very good," Woodson said. "That's the honest opinion. Before preseason started, I think you're optimistic. But it's almost like a young guy coming into the NFL. The game goes too fast for them."
Except that these are not young guys who will improve with experience.
As the mistakes pile up, the replacement officials will get crushed with criticism. Poor officiating decisions may also lead to player injuries, and it will cost teams games.
The dancing has gone on long enough. It's time to end this charade and get the legitimate officials back to work.
Have you noticed a significant difference in the officiating this preseason? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below...
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