By Drew Markol, TSN Contributor - Archive - Email
Nobody asked me, but...
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Whither the zebras?

Many want to see the newest ones become extinct before the NFL opens its season in less than three weeks

. And those same many who year after year complain about the old zebras are yearning for them to return.

Oh, the cruel irony.

We despised what we had and now despise even more what we're stuck with. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown. Or in this case, the cap.

As it looks now, the NFL, which is locking them out, isn't going to budge as far as getting its "real" officials back anytime soon.

And you know what? I'm OK with that.

Name the sport and we, as fans, complain about the officials.

"Ump, you're blind!"

"Ref, you stink!"

"Where'd you learn to skate?"

Etc., etc.

So, I ask, what's the difference between what we have now, replacement NFL refs or the regular guys?

The difference? The players, coaches and fans, to a degree, now have a ready- made excuse when they think their team got jobbed.

Blame the new guys, and one woman, for it. It'll be the easiest out of the season.

"If only the regular refs had been here, we'd be 10-0."

"How could they miss that call? I have money on this game."

Oh, I'm so not looking forward to hearing that from every whiner in football (remember the Steelers-Seahawks Super Bowl in 2006 when the refs admitted blowing calls? Kind of a big game officiated by "real" refs, don't you think?).

The complaints today from the NFL officials are nothing new.

How much will their raises be?

What's going to happen with their pensions?

Um, raises? What's a raise? Have you guys seen the economy lately? If you haven't noticed, it's not so good.

And pensions? People still get pensions?

Aren't you guys part-time employees? Yes, yes, you are.

Hmm, let me get this straight. You're all part-time employees and you're getting raises and pensions and, in essence, you're working 16 days a year?

Can I become a ref?

Now I know more goes into it that just the 16 games a year, These guys have meetings and look at films and do work hard. Undoubtedly.

Plus, they do risk injury because they have very large men running and tackling each other and they are in harm's way more often than you and I on a Sunday afternoon.

But they almost all have full-time jobs the rest of the time and that's one of the rubs.

The NFL wants to make a small group of officials full-time in order to better prepare them for the job.

That's a good idea. Except the current officials don't want to do that because getting the double dip of their real jobs and they're officiating jobs would go away.

Another fly in the ointment, for the current refs, is that the league wants to add three additional officiating crews to give the current crop more rest and to inject some new blood into a pool of aging refs.

That's another good idea. There are too many bad "real" officials now. Give some younger folks a shot.

So, where does it all end or how will it end up?

One guess is that at some point in September, maybe week two or three, the league and its "real" officials will come to some kind of accord and they'll return to work.

And, a few weeks after that, the replacement refs will have been forgotten and we'll start complaining about the "real" refs because that's what we do.

The shame in all of this will be that among the replacement officials there have to be some good ones who will never get another chance to officiate at the highest level.

They'll be labeled scabs and be blacklisted.

What I'd like to see is the NFL incorporate some of them into their regular rotation. Of course, if that happens, they'll be shunned by the "real" officials and made to feel like outsiders. And that's a shame, too.

I don't see this thing having a happy ending one way or another.

Drew Markol has been a sportswriter and columnist for several newspapers in the Philadelphia area for more than 25 years.

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