NFL officials' lockout puts heat on replacements

With Week 1 kicking off on Wednesday night, the officials will be under more scrutiny than ever, as the league tries to negotiate a labor deal with its officials.
by Michael Baldwin Published: September 4, 2012
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photo - Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo pleads his case with officials during the first half of a NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy) ORG XMIT: CALI120
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo pleads his case with officials during the first half of a NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy) ORG XMIT: CALI120

Todd Ragsdale turned down an opportunity to try out to become an NFL replacement official.

A Division II official who organizes high school football crews in the Tulsa area, Ragsdale has 15 years experience. His goal is to become a Big 12 official.

“If I go to the NFL and work four preseason games and one or two regular-season games, when this (lockout) ends, my position would have been replaced,” Ragsdale said. “I would effectively lose a year's experience, putting me a year behind moving up to Division I.”

Other Oklahomans, though, are on substitute officiating crews that have worked preseason games and will call Week 1 games, beginning Wednesday night when the Cowboys and Giants kick off the NFL season.

Five Oklahomans, including a high school referee from Broken Arrow, are among the 120 substitute officials the league selected following invitation-only tryout camps in June in Dallas and Atlanta. Two veteran locked-out NFL officials also are from Oklahoma.

NFL policy generally prohibits officials from speaking to the media. The replacements are no exception. Oklahoma refs on both sides of the lockout declined comment, didn't return phone calls or couldn't be reached.

“It's an unfortunate deal for everyone involved,” said David Gore, who organizes high school officials in the Oklahoma City area. “The guys being locked out should be on the field. And the guys taking their place there are varying opinions on whether they're qualified. It could be an awfully difficult road.”

Some preseason gaffes have been glaring, including penalties called on the wrong player, incomplete and inaccurate explanations of on-field rulings and the ball spotted incorrectly.

“It will be a pretty major undertaking for these officials whose experience basically is Division II and Division III football,” said Gore, who has 31 years experience, including some Division II games in the 1990s.

Besides possibly affecting the outcome of games, critics claim that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell using substitute refs will risk players' safety in an era where emphasis is being placed on minimizing concussions.

“The safety factor I think is the main thing the NFL is concerned with,” Ragsdale said. “They'll be OK if they miss an offensive hold or a false start. But the speed of the NFL, with an emphasis on safety, is what I think owners and coaches are concerned with at this point.”

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, a Fox analyst, was quoted: “I haven't seen a flag yet for an illegal hit on a quarterback. ... And yet I've seen (illegal hits) in each game I've watched.”


by Michael Baldwin
Reporter
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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