Replacement officials step onto big stage
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David DeCastro and Mike Adams will not be the only ones making their NFL debuts tonight in a preseason game.
Like rookies manning an NFL field for the first time, many, if not all of the referees, will be making their first NFL appearances. A dispute between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association has left the usual referees locked out. As a result, the NFL has hired referees with experience in college football, arena football, and, yes, even lingerie football.
Several replacement officials participated in the Hall of Fame game Sunday with less-than-stellar results. Even the coin toss did not go smoothly.
Craig Ochoa, who has refereed Division I football and the Lingerie Football League, flipped a commemorative coin to start the game. He then incorrectly announced that the New Orleans Saints had won the toss and deferred. As he started to walk away, he caught his mistake.
"Correction, Arizona has won the toss," he said.
The replacement referees committed a litany of errors, many of which were listed in a statement released Monday by the NFLRA. Some of the errors included a no call for offensive holding in the end zone and a no call for a helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless player.
Gene Steratore, of Washington, Pa.,, is one of the locked-out referees. This will -- or would, if the NFL and NFLRA don't reach a deal -- be his 10th year as an NFL referee. Steratore said even those with college football experience will not be ready to referee NFL games.
"It is not something you can just say 'Oh, yeah, I worked college football for 10 years.' It's completely different."
Steratore spent 17 years working as a college referee before making the jump to the NFL.
"There are many more nuances in the NFL game," he said. "The NFL rules, and as they need to be applied, are an extremely great task to handle."
Steratore then rattled off a hypothetical situation with different penalties on both teams, all occurring at different times.
"Sometimes, there's three flags on the field, and you didn't throw any of them. You have three guys running at you and all have different fouls," he said.
"When did that one occur? When did this one occur?" he said, adding a few more questions that have to be answered. "Then, you have to turn around on live TV and announce it.
"And don't forget the players' numbers, please."
Steratore said examples like this are just part of what an NFL referee deals with, which makes it tough for him to envision the replacement officials doing well.
"I believe they are put in a position that's going to be tough for them to succeed," he said. "It's not a fair task for them."
If Steratore was not currently an NFL referee, he said he would not be a replacement official.
"I would not be crazy enough to put myself in that position, knowing what level of work it takes to do this and do it accurately," he said, before joking that his advice to the replacement officials would be to say to the coaches " 'I don't think the first-[string] guys should play. Just go to the third [string] or fourth.' "
That is because one other major factor in refereeing the NFL involves the speed of the game. The starters are typically the fastest players, but, in preseason games, starters usually play only for a short time.
If the NFL and NFLRA do not reach an agreement by the time the regular season begins, Steratore said officiating could become even more difficult for the replacements.
"The speed isn't here yet. The speed is not close yet in the preseason," he said. "In a month from now, it'll be different when [the Steelers] go to Denver. That speed is real."
First Published August 9, 2012 12:00 am