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There has been a lot of complaining this past month about the non-union, replacement officials currently being used in the NFL while there is an ongoing labor dispute between the NFL and official's union. These replacement officials are doing an objectively horrible job over the pre-season and first few weeks of the regular season, and this week might have been the worst.

However, the horrible officiating is rapidly becoming the best bargaining chip in favor that the official's union could possibly hope for. The NFL cannot afford to continue to allow these bad calls to continue to happen over the course of the year (and most certainly into the playoffs). This week, the NFL may have to just cave in to all the official's union's demands in order to get the trained, experienced professionals back into the zebra-suits and onto the field.

The "Simultaneous Catch" heard round the world

In Monday night's game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, the game came down to a clear blown call by the officials. With no time left on the clock, Seahawks quarterback Russel Wilson threw a hail mary pass into the end zone. It appeared that Packers defensive back M.D. Jennings had intercepted the pass, but Seahawks receiver Golden Tate manages to get a hand or two on the ball as well. The play is ruled a "simultaneous catch", which, by rule is awarded to the offensive player.

"Item 5: Simultaneous Catch. If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball."
   - NFL rulebook, rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5: Simultaneous Catch
Sept. 24, 2012, Green Bay vs. Seattle Simultaneous Hail Mary
One official signals "Touchdown", the other (with the slightly better view) give the signal that usually implies "Interception" and "Touchback". The play is ruled a touchdown on field, is reviewed in the booth, and is upheld as a Seahawks touchdown.

Yes, Jennings appears to have clearer possession of the ball (he has it clutched against his chest with both hands). However, Tate does get both hands on the ball, and may have managed to keep at least one hand on the ball at all times. The fact that Jennings never clearly removes the ball from Tate's possession seems (to me) to give Tate the benefit of the doubt with regard to the simultaneous catch.

Remember, by rule, it doesn't matter which player has "more possession" of the ball. It only matters that both have possession, and that possession happens at the same time. Jennings may have a slight head start on Tate, and may deserve credit for the interception based on that. But in real-time, the catch appears simultaneous, and if Tate touches the ball after Jennings, it is only a split-second later.

Think about the situations independently: a one-handed, palm catch is just as valid as a two-handed catch against your chest. Both count as possession.

The important thing is that it appears that Tate may have lost possession during the catch, since his right hand seems to come off the ball. So this is probably a bad call. The play was ruled a "Touchdown" on the field, so in order to overturn the call, conclusive video evidence must prove that the call was incorrect. Although Tate's right hand comes off the ball, the cameras did not capture what his left hand was doing (since it was burried in Jennings' arms and the ball), so we cannot see whether or not he has a grasp on the ball with his left hand. Thus, the benefit of the doubt is given to the receiver, the call on the field, and the play is upheld (probably incorrectly).

Had the ruling on the field been "Interception", I am sure that the INT would have been upheld for the same reason (no camera could see whether Tate's left hand had a grasp on the ball). So this is most likely a blown call.

However, this debate shouldn't be necessary. Tate commits a flagrant offensive pass interference which should have been called. Dead ball. Clock is at zero. Game over. Packers win. No question about it.

Now, as a Bears fan, I can't really complain. The Packers "loss" ;) ;) puts the Bears at first place in the division with a record of 2-1, tied with the Minnesota Vikings (Bears currently have the tie breaker due to points scored). So in that regard, it was fantastic officiating by the replacement officials!

More bargaining chips for the officiating union

Now, I typically try to avoid being too political on this blog (even though I have no problem expressing opinions about things other than politics), but I think situations like this just go to show why unions are a valuable and important institution in the American economy. Although, I have no problem admitting that there are bloated, greedy unions who have too much undeserved power in certain industries, but that isn't the point. I'm talking about principle. When workers aren't being treated the way they think they should be, they most certainly should have the right to collectively bargain, and to go on strike. When a company (such as the NFL, in this case) is forced to bring in replacement workers (in this case, officials) who cannot perform the job up to par with the striking employees, and it begins to affect the performance of the company, it shows just how valuable the union employees are to the company's success.

The NFL cannot allow these sorts of debacles to continue. And it seems they are happening every week. The NFL needs to get the union officials back in their striped jerseys and on the field, and they need to do it now!

The replacement refs are blowing calls left and right, and clearly cannot handle the pressure of the pro game. But more importantly, the players and coaches have no faith in the competence of these replacement officials, and the players and coaches are starting to blow their tops and take it out on the refs. The NFL might be looking at a full-blown mutiny if things continue in this manner.

You might think an NFL official's call might've been bad in the past (all of SuperBowl XL comes to mind, and maybe the Seahawks have finally gotten their revenge). But the professional officials do an astounding job most of the time. Truly game-changing blown calls are few and far between. Even if you hate Phil Luckett, his controversial calls were all the correct calls! Well, the coin toss one is iffy. These unioned NFL officials deserve to be paid and receive appropriate benefits, and the NFL should pay up!

UPDATE September 25, 2012: NFL supports the decision not to overturn the play; no comment on whether on-field ruling was justified

The NFL has released its official response to last night's game, stating that the offensive pass interference should have been called, but that it supports the decision not to overrule the call on the field. The league (as far as I know) has been conveniently silent on whether or not they think the ruling of "simultaneous catch" was justified to begin with.

NFL response to Simultaneous Catch
The NFL's response to the decision not to overrule the on-field ruling. The league has been conveniently silent on whether or not the on-field ruling was justified to begin with.

Now, I agree with the NFL's statement. As I stated last night, the decision not to overrule the on-field call was a good decision, since there was not indisputable video evidence that Golden Tate did not possess the ball (his left hand is completely obscured, and a one-handed catch is just as valid as a two-handed catch). However, that does not mean that the call was right, nor does it excuse the officials blowing the pass interference call.

The NFL Player's Association also made a statement:

"Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity. This affirmative decision has not only resulted in poor calls, missed calls and bad game management, but the combination of those deficiencies will only continue to jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game that has taken decades to build."
   - NFL Player's Association

This is a great quote for several reasons.

  1. It hits the NFL square in the jaw by pointing out that the officiating situation is jeopardizing player safety. This is a big deal, considering that the NFL has passed numerous rules based around protecting player safety. Many of these rules could be seen as efforts to dumb down the game, and encourage more scoring by make it almost impossible for defenses to defend the pass. In reality, I think it's pretty apparent that the NFL doesn't care about player safety, but that they are only trying to protect their investments in the VIPs (Very Important Players).
  2. The statement reaffirms the value of collective bargaining. As I said last night, this situation shows exactly why collective bargaining should be a protected right for American workers. Skilled, experienced workers should have every right to demand competitive salaries, benefits, and satisfactory working conditions. And if those workers' absence hurts a company's bottom line, then it just goes to show how valuable those workers really are. That is most certainly happening right now in the NFL.

I even read an article in Forbes suggesting that the NFL Player's Association should go on strike until the union officials are reinstated. As a football fan, I would hate to see that happen. But as a supporter of collective bargaining rights, I think that if the NFL Players' Association thinks their livelihood is being threatened by poor business practices by the NFL, then they should most definitely express their dissatisfaction.

Heck, even the President, Barrack Obama, has stated that the situation is bogus, saying: "... I think there was a real problem with that call. [...] I've been saying for months we've got to get our refs back." Maybe he should enact an executive order to force the NFL to reinstate the union officials ;) ;)

In any case, I think these replacement officials should definitely be in the running to receive this year's Darwin Award, since they are apparently trying very hard to try to get themselves lynched!

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