Bill Plaschke

NFL losing credibility with each blown call by replacement refs

Three weeks into the season, it's clear NFL's use of unqualified substitute officials isn't working, and it's time for Commissioner Roger Goodell to end lockout.

The fans have spoken. Did you hear the cursing chant from Baltimore? When the Ravens faithful had finally endured enough of the NFL's arrogance Sunday, they rained a unified two-syllable expletive down upon the fake officials that walloped millions of television viewers like a Ray Lewis forearm. I've heard that curse chanted before, but it's never been so consistently loud, and never so amazingly long.

The players have spoken. Less than a week after the NFL ordered its personnel to stop harassing the paper zebras because "everybody has a responsibility to respect the game," one guy was still so angry he put it in writing. Brandon Spikes, linebacker for the New England Patriots, tweeted, "Can some 1 please tell these [expletive] zebras foot locker called and they're needed Back at work!!!!" His hashtag was a perfect description of the situation. It read, #BreakingPoint

Finally, at the lowest moment of what may have been the most shameful Sunday in the history of the NFL, the game's finest coach also spoke. Bill Belichick was so upset after his Patriots lost to the Ravens in the day's final debacle, he grabbed at one of the replacement officials in an act of rage rarely seen in a league where a head coach has never been ejected from a game.

To all these words, there is only one thing to add, a suggestion to Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding a referee lockout that is now threatening the league's integrity while indelibly staining his legacy.

Give it up. It's over. Your power play didn't work. Officials are not cardboard cutouts who can be replaced with cheap facsimiles. The decorum of your sport cannot be enforced by substitute teachers. The safety of your players cannot be monitored by crossing guards. The administration of your game cannot be handled by temps.

Cut your losses. End this lockout now. Show who you are. Show what your game means. Prove that the new national pastime is not just another corrupt old business. Prove that you really respect the game more than your need to win this labor fight. Do you really care about the health of your players as much as the health of your league's bank account? Has all this recent cracking down on cracking heads been sincere or just spin?

End this lockout before it irreparably damages the season while indelibly staining your legacy. End it before Thursday begins a fourth weekend of controlled chaos.

Want to know my favorite statistic of Week 3? Sixteen of 20 coach's challenges resulted in overturned calls, meaning officials made the wrong decision on 80% of some of the biggest plays. Think about that.

Want to know my second-favorite statistic? When you crunch the numbers, if the NFL gave the locked-out referees everything they wanted, it would cost about $100,000 extra per team per season. That equals about four games' pay for one of the team's lowest-paid players. The owners are watching their sport burn because they won't improve the officials' compensation by about one-fourth the amount they would pay a backup guard? Think about that.

OK, real quick, I've got a third-favorite statistic from last weekend. There were 13 penalty first downs in the game between the Patriots and the Ravens, which is only the most in the history of the NFL.

The only numbers that seem to concern Goodell, of course, are the television ratings, which are as booming as ever. As long as the players and fans won't walk over this — and neither group is budging — then Goodell apparently feels that the officiating problems are irrelevant. Heck, he probably thinks the poor officiating is good for league buzz.

But I've got some Internet photos in front of me that should remind him of a different, much more frightening possibility.

In one of the photos, Shannon Eastin, a replacement who is the league's first female official, is sitting behind a pile of chips while competing in the 2007 World Series of Poker. Lovely. Somebody making decisions that affect the outcome of NFL games is a gambler.

In another photo, replacement Brian Stroplo is wearing New Orleans Saints gear. The NFL pulled him from the rotation after seeing these photos, but the guy had already officiated one game, and how would you like to be a Saints opponent penalized by a guy shouting, "Who Dat?"

These photos meant the league didn't closely check the replacements, who come from the likes of middle schools, eight-man high school ball and small colleges, because the best refs won't cross the line. This means there could be other officials susceptible to outside sources, and you know where I'm going here. If replacement officials remain, how long before a coach seriously charges that a game has been fixed? Already, betting lines in Las Vegas have changed to reflect a belief that replacements are being swayed by home crowds. When has an NFL point spread been altered because of concerns about potentially tainted officials? Answer: Never.

There is some thought that because Belichick works for one of the league's most powerful owners, Robert Kraft, maybe Goodell will listen now. There is some hope that the league's powerful sponsors and even television partners — did you hear Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth just obliterating the officials on NBC on Sunday night? — will finally get Goodell's ear about the danger in producing a dishonorable product.

If none of that works, then Roger Goodell just needs to listen to his own office, in that scolding memo it sent to the league.

"Everybody has a responsibility to respect the game."

This includes the guy running it.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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