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Bill Plaschke: NFL losing credibility with each blown call by replacement refs

By Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times Modified: September 24, 2012 at 11:57 pm •  Published: September 25, 2012

OK, real quick, I've got a third-favorite statistic from last weekend. There were 13 penalty first downs in the game between the Patriots and the Ravens, which is only the most in the history of the NFL.

The only numbers that seem to concern Goodell, of course, are the television ratings, which are as booming as ever. As long as the players and fans won't walk over this — and neither group is budging — then Goodell apparently feels that the officiating problems are irrelevant. Heck, he probably thinks the poor officiating is good for league buzz.

But I've got some Internet photos in front of me that should remind him of a different, much more frightening possibility.

In one of the photos, Shannon Eastin, a replacement who is the league's first female official, is sitting behind a pile of chips while competing in the 2007 World Series of Poker. Lovely. Somebody making decisions that affect the outcome of NFL games is a gambler.

In another photo, replacement Brian Stroplo is wearing New Orleans Saints gear. The NFL pulled him from the rotation after seeing these photos, but the guy had already officiated one game, and how would you like to be a Saints opponent penalized by a guy shouting, “Who Dat?”

These photos meant the league didn't closely check the replacements, who come from the likes of middle schools, eight-man high school ball and small colleges, because the best refs won't cross the line. This means there could be other officials susceptible to outside sources, and you know where I'm going here. If replacement officials remain, how long before a coach seriously charges that a game has been fixed? Already, betting lines in Las Vegas have changed to reflect a belief that replacements are being swayed by home crowds. When has an NFL point spread been altered because of concerns about potentially tainted officials? Answer: Never.

There is some thought that because Belichick works for one of the league's most powerful owners, Robert Kraft, maybe Goodell will listen now. There is some hope that the league's powerful sponsors and even television partners — did you hear Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth just obliterating the officials on NBC on Sunday night? — will finally get Goodell's ear about the danger in producing a dishonorable product.

If none of that works, then Roger Goodell just needs to listen to his own office, in that scolding memo it sent to the league.

“Everybody has a responsibility to respect the game.”

This includes the guy running it.