OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A critic of the National Football League’s system of fines and rule changes in recent seasons, Ravens safety Bernard Pollard hopes to see the league’s regular officials return sooner rather than later.
After the first bout of discussions between the league and the locked-out officials in over a month went nowhere late last week, the NFL will begin the regular season with replacement officials, a group that was the punchline throughout the preseason but will now be entrusted with preserving the integrity of the most successful professional sport around.
Understanding of the officials’ fight after NFL players endured a 134-day lockout last year, Pollard would like to see a resolution as soon as possible.
“This is what it is right now,” Pollard said. “I would love to see the refs come back. I couldn’t care less if you fine me or whatever. I would love to see them come back, but this is the business part of the NFL. They want things to happen; the refs want things to happen. This is one thing me being a player kind of understands. When we were on a lockout, this is what happens. They’ve got to come to an agreement. Hopefully, it’s quick — tomorrow, hopefully — but I can’t call it. This is the league. All we can do is hold on. We’ve got to strap up.”
Mistakes were abundant during the preseason, ranging from innocent miscues such as a referee saying the Atlanta Falcons were from Arizona to more egregious errors such as the incorrect spotting of the ball and confusion over how the instant replay system is supposed to run. The stakes become much higher beginning Wednesday when the New York Giants square off against the Dallas Cowboys in the opening game of the 2012 season.
The speed of the game becomes even faster with starters playing a full 60 minutes and the tension becomes thicker on the sideline as teams expect calls to be accurate and timely.
“It’s new to the replacement refs,” Pollard said. “This game is so much faster than what they’ve seen. Guys are a lot slicker than what they’ve seen. We’ve just got to hope and pray that these refs can get back at it.”
Many have expressed concern with maintaining the integrity of the game while others have expressed concerns with safety as officials are expected to maintain order and protect players from unnecessary roughness and hits on defenseless players.
Pollard didn’t express as much concern over that aspect of the game being impacted by replacement officials, echoing comments he’s made in the past about the violent nature of the game.
“That’s something that we’ve been knocking the last couple years is safety,” Pollard said. “Us, as players, we want safety, but we understand that this is a violent sport. You’ve got big men who run fast and who lift weights running into each other. You’re going to have problems. Whether it’s concussions, whether it’s broken bones, it doesn’t matter. Guys are going to get hurt.”
Given how much controversy calls and subsequent fines have drummed up in recent seasons, it remains to be seen how active the replacement officials will be in throwing penalty flags for questionable hits. Of course, the league has fined players for hits that weren’t even penalized in the past.
Pollard and other defenders with the reputation of being hard-hitters have often said they won’t change their approach to the game.
“You’re not going to stop the violence of it, because year in and year out they want bigger, faster, and stronger,” Pollard said. “If you want that and you’re going to pay for that, you’re going to have the injuries as well.”