All NFL fans suffered last year for months, crushed by the thought of their season in jeopardy during the raging lockout between the league and the NFLPA. Now, commissioner Roger Goodell finds himself two months into a second lockout in as many seasons. This time, the NFL Referees Association finds itself locked out by the league. While a year ago replacement players would have damaged the NFL terribly, Goodell seems content to play the 2012 season with replacement officials.
On one hand, this lockout could have a severe impact on the league this season. Training new officials is going to be a lengthy process. Even after all that it will probably take the replacement officials a few games to get the lay of the land and really settle into officiating. In addition, Goodell has been cracking down in recent years on big hits in the name of player safety. Although training will be extensive, the jury will remain out on whether or not the replacement officials will be able to be consistent with Goodell’s prior rulings.
Some good does seem to be coming from this lockout though. The NFL has confirmed that women will be included in the group of replacement officials. The league has seen extraordinary growth in recent years in the number of women holding positions in front offices. It’s good to see that the league wants to extend this momentum on to the field as well.
Expect the NFL to let preseason games be run by the replacement officials, just to see how that group works in game situations. An unsuccessful outing by the replacements in the four-week preseason could be huge at the bargaining table for the NFL Referees Association. However, this is a possibility for the NFL to make rapid improvements in the way the game is officiated. Hopefully they could find a way to do that without damaging the product that has made football one of the most exciting sports in the world.