NFL "replacement referees" continue to draw criticism

The people suiting up for NFL games this year aren't all pros. The referees are replacements, brought in by the league as it tries to come to terms with the referees union over its contract. Criticizing these replacement refs has practically become its own sport.

As the football season has gotten underway, YouTube and other social media sites have been filled with rants from angry NFL fans.

"The product of what we're getting with these referees is an absolute atrocity," one fan said.

"This is a professional sport we need professional refs -- not these second hand refs. Who knows where they grabbed them from," another fan said.

Sports Illustrated writer Peter King tweeted the legitimacy of the NFL is at stake.

Fans and commentators alike have pointed to numerous blown calls, poor ball spotting, failure to control players' emotions and an all around lack of confidence displayed by officials.

The league and the referee's union are at an impasse over wages and pension benefits. So far, the NFL is shrugging off the criticism saying: Officiating is never perfect. The current officials have made great strides and are performing admirably under unprecedented scrutiny and great pressure. As we do every season, we will work to improve officiating and are confident game officials will show continued improvement.

One former referee isn't holding his breath.

"The integrity of the game can only be protected by experienced people who know what they're doing and control of the game is vital, and we're not seeing that today," Jim Tunney said.

Tunney worked for over three decades as an NFL referee officiating three Super Bowl games along the way. He says it is unfortunate attention is focused on the referees, when it should be on the players and teams.

"As officials we don't want that notoriety. We don't want the attention. We want to walk on the field and do the game and walk off the field and people to say 'who are these guys,'" Tunney said.

In fairness, none of the games thus far seem to have been decided by poor officiating. Going from high school football, or Division Three college football like some replacement referees would be a major challenge.

Still, it's an unforgiving business.

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