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Potential for a major headache

NFL?referee lockout could damage 2012 season

July 28, 2012
STEVE BROWNLEE - Journal Sports Writer ( , The Mining Journal

I mentioned in a story about a week ago, which was about local cable television availability of Detroit Lions games, that cable and broadcast TV companies usually play a game of "chicken" to see who blinks first when it comes to hammering out agreements.

I'm worried the same thing may happen between the National Football League and the union that represents its game officials, the NFL Referees Association.

And if neither side feels inclined to blink in time, we may have woefully inadequate officials calling games throughout the preseason and maybe when the games start to count.

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You think your Packers or Lions are getting jobbed by refs that are variously called homers, incompetent or even cheaters - none of which I agree with - then "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," to quote a '70s hit song title by Bachman Turner Overdrive.

Unlike major-league baseball that used replacement umpires in the past, there aren't minor leagues the NFL can call on for near-ready refs at a moment's notice.

Guys who are almost - but not quite good enough - for the NFL are probably calling NCAA Division I college games on Saturdays.

And I don't see them doubling up on their weekends by flying from Tuscaloosa, Ala., at 11:30 p.m. after a Crimson Tide night game to be in Green Bay, for a Packers-Bears contest at 1 p.m. the following day.

Maybe some will, but would there be anywhere near enough to fill out 16 officiating crews each weekend?

So do you go to retired NFL refs, NCAA Division II refs, maybe Pop Warner league officials?

With non-NFL guys, they'll have to do a crash-course study of the NFL rulebook - which I hear is comparable to my parents' old 20-volume set of World Book encyclopedias I grew up with.

Will Roger Goodell take a turn on the field every week? I sure hope he doesn't call any Saints games, otherwise we could have instant Bounty-Gate II, except contributions for the bounties will come in from players on all 32 of the league's teams.

This is a story that's been bubbling below the surface, only popping up in a few articles I've seen on The Associated Press sports wire the past few weeks.

I didn't even realize this was going on until a more prominent story moved across AP while I was putting together a Mining Journal sports section about two weeks ago.

My first thought was "Great, just what we need! Last season, we barely got the players back playing again, now the refs are walking out."

To be more precise, the refs are actually being locked out. Sound familiar? Is this July 2012 or July 2011?

I dug around the other day on the Internet and found a few stories by prominent sports pundits like Pat Kirwan of NFL Insider on He and others got into all the ins and outs of what's going on and how each side is bad-mouthing the other.

I only casually care about all that, and I suspect the same is true for you fans, too. I just want to hear that they're going to solve this thing, preferably in time for the first preseason game.

I don't want to be sitting on pins and needles all next month wondering if the quality of the 2012 NFL season is going to go down the drain.

As far as I'm concerned, watching the NFL's elite like Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning play in games with really poor officiating isn't a whole lot better than seeing replacement players butt heads in games called by top-notch refs.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is



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