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Campbell_Bill-FEATURE-img Bill Campbell
Bill Campbell, known to all Philadelphia sports fans as “The Dean,”...
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By Bill Campbell

The Replacement Officials

While there is much joy over the Eagles second straight one-point win, I’ve got to say something about the work of the replacement officials. They were downright embarrassing.

If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell allows such incompetence to continue, he will badly undermine the credibility of the National Football League. He also will leave it wide open for a major incident to occur, resulting in a serious player fight or player injury, which the league will long regret. In a statement in USA Today, Goodell urged everyone to “pay no attention to the men in striped shirts; that they are doing a very credible job and they’re only going to get better.” That’s like telling Dorothy to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”. Was Goodell watching the games from Oz over the weekend? Such a statement from the commissioner is as embarrassing as the officiating – as are the issues underlying this ridiculous situation.

A league as successful as the NFL should have had its dispute with the seasoned officials resolved before the pre-season got underway. Now we’ve ended Week Two with the replacement refs showing uncertainty of the rules, lack of control over the players and committing their own delays of game. These are the guys who supposedly govern the action on the field and they are an increasing liability. The commissioner talks a lot about the integrity of the game and the safety of the players. He hands down suspensions and fines in the name of compliance with the league’s rules and regulations. Yet he places the policing of the games in the hands of amateurs whose incompetence is making the playing field more dangerous. It has to end.

When I heard the comments of coaches Andy Reid and John Harbaugh after the Eagles-Ravens game on Sunday, I suspected that the coaches have been instructed by the NFL front office to recite the party line on the subject of replacement officials. Reid seemed to be well-scripted talking after the game about its turn-around on a questionable offensive pass interference penalty on which a flag never was thrown. Had the call gone Baltimore’s way, Jacoby Jones would likely have had a TD and a Ravens victory would have been sealed. But since things had gone his way, Reid said, “We don’t worry about that, the replacement people are trying to do their job to the best of their ability. They’re put in this situation and doing their best. They’re getting better as the weeks go on.” This decision decided the game and Reid wasn’t interesting in revisiting it. But there were a number of poor calls decided against the Eagles before this one and Reid seemed to distance himself from commenting on them. It felt like he was sticking with a script.

By contrast, Baltimore coach, John Harbaugh, varied from it a bit when he said, “The challenge for us is trying to figure out what constitutes what. Is it illegal conduct or pass interference? Now I am not really sure.” Harbaugh said that he observed chaos on the field and that the officials played a part in starting it. But when asked to elaborate on the officials’ participation in that chaos, the coach declined by saying, “Not that I am allowed to say.” We saw many skirmishes on the field throughout Sunday’s game. Good officials stop these immediately and, if they continue, they have to call more offsetting penalties. Someone has to be held responsible. But no one was doing that with any consistency at The Linc.

After the prior week’s game in Cleveland, Eagle Le Sean McCoy commented that “the good thing is that the other team has to play with the same refs.” That’s especially true when the officials happen to be incompetent and when their ineptitude interrupts the pace and progress of play. Eagles’ star receiver, DeSean Jackson, was asked whether he was ready for the regular officials to return and replied, “For sure. It definitely takes away from the momentum and speed of the game.” Sunday’s game against the Ravens lasted for 3 hours, 41 minutes because the officials had so many problems spotting the ball and interpreting the rules. There even were 2 two-minute warnings in the second half which were never announced. It was almost a comedy of errors. You have to wonder how many other things they got wrong.

To add to the increasing insanity on this issue, just before Sunday’s games began the NFL pulled a replacement official from the New Orleans – Carolina game because it had discovered that he is a Saints fan. This side judge was replaced by an alternate when it was revealed before kick-off that the guy had a picture of himself on Facebook wearing a Saints jersey at a recent tailgate party. The page containing the images has been taken down but the damage was done. The NFL cannot continue with its efforts to sell to the fans an image of competence about these half-baked officials. The success and prosperity of the NFL is an established fact and the league cannot afford such amateurism. It’s hard to believe that Goodell and Company will hold themselves open to this nonsense much longer.

Hockey Forgets the Fans

The beginning of the hockey players’ lock-out should serve as a reminder to major sports followers everywhere that the people participating in it have very little respect for the average fan. Both management and labor seem to believe that, regardless of the circumstances, the fans will always be there. In these times, that lack of respect borders closely upon insult.

During the last decade, pro sports fans have been subjected to so many lock-outs that they’ve become almost commonplace. It’s gotten to the point where you almost can’t have a season without a strike of some sort – or the threat of one. But the guys who profit from the success of a season often come across as arrogantly forgetting who put them where they are: the fans. All of this is even more insulting in a poor economy in which many fans literally can’t afford the price of admission but still are willing to front the cost of a night at a game just because they love it. Do the players or the leagues ever consider them?

In the current hockey situation, training camps were to begin next Saturday and the season was scheduled to start on October 11th. The owners and players – populated by many millionaires – can’t reach some sort of amiable compromise so some players are heading oversees to play, others are just heading home. It’s hard to believe that both the NHL and the players don’t seem to recall that this same stubbornness led to the cancellation of the entire 2004-2005 season, marking the first time in major sports history that an entire season was lost due to a labor dispute. But NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and players’ union head Don Fehr have been sending the fans a message for a long time now and they’ve never even seemed close to an agreement

This is the third lock-out in Bettman’s career as top man for the NHL. He seems tone deaf to the fans and his apparent intransigence may lead to an uncertain future for the sport – one which has gained in popularity and profitability in recent years. Last year the NHL had a $3 billion season, made a profitable TV deal with NBC and enjoyed improved public relations and perception. But Bettman thinks that, with about ten teams losing money, the players are making too much of it. So he remains in his corner and the players have gathered in theirs. While there even may be blame to spread from one side to the others, the apparent contempt for the fans who pay for the tickets, buy the player jerseys and just plain love the sport is more than clear. Do these guys ever ask themselves, What if we put on a game and nobody came?

College Wrap-Up

Not only did head coach Bill O’Brien win his first game at Penn State, 34-7, he may also have unveiled a budding star. His name is Allen Robinson. He won the Nittany Lions Best Player Award last week, catching 5 passes for 136 yards and 3 touchdowns. In all of last season, senior Gerek Moye caught 3 TD’s, which was a team record. Robinson has shown us that he’s one to watch. Wide receiver coach, Stan Hixon, was not surprised at Robinson’s performance. He said, “We saw this spring that Robinson could be a really, really good player. It was just getting him an opportunity and his taking advantage of that opportunity.” His third TD in the game came on a pass intended for freshman Trevor Williams. The ball tipped off Williams’ face mask and floated in the air right to Robinson who was open in the end zone. After this performance, sophomore Robinson probably will receive some more attention in future games. “Other guys are going to have to get open,” said Coach Hixon, “because Robinson is going to see much double coverage.” In the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State lost 13 players, 9 of whom transferred to other schools. The loss of the first 2 games had some people wondering if a recovery from the pain of the last six months was even possible. So this was a special day for Bill O’Brien and his players. Quarterback Matt McGloin said, “It does feel good. It will lead to more wins. A lot of people hit the panic button when we started 0 and 2 but we didn’t. We practiced and we prepared hard. We knew the type of team we had, we knew we could put it all together. Did we put it all together today? I don’t think so. We can do better.” But the Lions clearly have taken some steps in the right direction and, even with the player defections, they seem to have a strong roster. O’Brien didn’t make too much of it all, saying, “I felt very good for this football team. In many ways, it was a long time coming. I told them that all the hard work they had put in this week and in the past weeks had paid off. It’s still just one win. We’ll soak it in tonight and then get back to work on Monday and get ready for a very good Temple team here next Saturday.”

In area games over last weekend, Villanova beat Rhode Island 31-10, Widener blitzed Misericordia 67-0, Delaware Valley won over Stevenson 34-10, Lehigh defeated Princeton 17-14, Delaware downed Bucknell 19-3, Pittsburgh beat Virginia tech 35-17, and Lafayette upset Penn 28-21. Penn has now lost its opening game in 5 of the last 6 seasons. Its quarterback, Billy Ragone, threw 5 interceptions during the game but Penn receiver Connor Scott caught 12 passes for 161 yards in a losing cause. Lafayette scored all of its points on Penn turnovers although Penn had 35 first downs to Lehigh’s 13 and 423 yards to 236. Strange stats for a strange game.

I’ll be watching Penn State – Temple this Saturday. And on Sunday it will be the Eagles who have headed out to Arizona to take on the Cardinals, a team that’s probably still on a high after upsetting the New England Patriots. Wonder what the officials have in store for us there?

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