What is really wrong with the NFL?

September 18, 2012 | Dwayne Showalter

Watching the post-game show on ESPN after last night’s Falcons-Broncos game on television, much of the show centered on the replacement officials and their miscues over the weekend.  While they had issues for sure, I’m not certain that these replacements haven’t uncovered a bigger issue as to what is wrong with the NFL.

Steve Young stated the league is enjoying unprecedented demand for its product.  Therefore, they just don’t care about putting replacements officials out there.  His reasoning was that as long as the business continues to grow, the league has no real reason to back down in the showdown with the regular officials.

Now Young doesn’t speak for the league per se (and people that do would certainly not publicly support his idea) but he is employed by one of the league’s biggest media outlets.  By all appearances, he is an intelligent man.  Surely someone, somewhere in the league office shares his view, if not the majority of the decision-makers there.

This type of arrogance leads to unsound business decisions.  It happened to NASCAR. Ten years ago, racetracks were filled to the rim.  Folks travelled far and wide to watch cars make left turns and win checkered flags.  NASCAR officials tried to make the sport even bigger by going to newer large market tracks, leaving its old racetracks in smaller towns (and the fans the supported all the tracks) holding the bag.  They changed the rules to include a playoff format putting emphasis on consistent performance as opposed to winning races.  They ended racing back line under caution and mandated a “lucky dog” policy for cars a lap down.  They homogenized the cars.  Things people loved about racing were now gone.  All of which may have contributed to drops in both attendance and viewers.

The NFL could be at a tipping point in terms of attendance and viewers for a variety of reasons.  The replacement officials have struggled to manage games but I feel this is something that can be ironed out as they go forward.  As for bad calls, we had no shortage of those with the regular refs.  What I have seen from players and coaches in regard to the officials seems a bigger issue to me.  The amount of whining for calls, poor reaction to calls and arguing by coaches (and players) is out hand.  If I were the commissioner, I’d start flagging more inappropriate behavior both on the field and on the sidelines.  NFL coaches are challenging college basketball coaches now as the biggest whiners in sports.  Three games I watched this weekend had points where the game nearly boiled over (Philly-Baltimore, Washington-St.Louis and Atlanta-Denver).  I don’t think this will change when/if the regulars come back.

In the Atlanta game, the main ruckus started when players felt the need to pull other players from a fumble scrum…and others were jumping in to the pile for no good reason.  I think it should almost be like a “third man in” penalty in hockey.  I understand if the ball is loose and you go for it, but there comes a point where jumping in serves no purpose.

Other annoyances include how almost every special teams play ends with scuffling.  Every first down must be celebrated like a birthday.  Taunting is commonplace now.  Everyone calls for a flag.  Replay is still broke.  I know sitting at home seconds after I see a replay what the call should be but on-field referees take 3 or 4 minutes to come to the same conclusion.  They still overturn plays without irrefutable evidence.

The violent contact that made the game a spectacle is being weaned out of football.  Receivers going over the middle are nearly protected as much as the quarterbacks.  It’s as if defenders must let you catch the ball, then figure where to hit you.  When I was a kid, we called them “buddy passes” when you were set up to be creamed.  In my opinion, the quarterback should be penalized for making such a stupid pass.  The league has also hurt its product over the years by reducing the amount of plays actually run by running the clock where it used to stop.  Every minute detail of every play is over-scrutinized too.  Watch a tape of a game from years ago and you’ll see what I mean.

I’m a lifelong football fan and have gone to games since I was 6 years old.  But I am losing my mind watching games nowadays.  I contemplate cashing in my tickets.  I have reduced the amount of time I go to M&T Bank Stadium.  I know plenty of people doing the same.  I wonder if Steve Young is right.  The demand of people who don’t have tickets is so high that the league doesn’t care.  And they are treating me, an avid follower of the sport since the 70’s, the same way NASCAR treated all their loyal customers.  Is Young right, or am i just getting old?