Tom Ross: Confusing call in Broncos’ game underscores need to make referees full time |

Tom Ross: Confusing call in Broncos’ game underscores need to make referees full time

Tom Ross

— If you think the zebras stunk up the gridiron on Sunday, blame the stingy owners, but don't blame the temporary officials who are struggling to keep up with the game as it's played on Sundays. Even better, consider the likelihood that it's finally time the National Football League ponied up for the cost of employing full-time referees.

I'll be the first to admit that the replacement referees blew some calls on the opening Sunday of the National Football League season. But it wasn't as bad as you think.

Yes, a blown call in the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals came close to costing the Cardinals a win.

And I still don't understand how the officials working the Broncos/Steelers game found justification for granting Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin a video review of Broncos receiver Erick Decker's catch near the goal line after they had just allowed another play to be run.

As it turned out, the questionable call worked in the Broncos’ favor. However, even if it had cost the Broncos dearly I'd still be saying, "Don't blame the temporary zebras." Instead, blame NFL owners who continue an archaic system of using part-time officials to manage a professional sport that is only becoming more complex to officiate.

Most football fans already know that the permanent part-time officials are holding out this fall for higher pay. Who can blame them?

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ESPN estimated during the 2011 player lockout that the best estimate of the league's annual revenue was $9 billion. The permanent NFL game-day officials are just asking to be paid like the TV performers they are. Do you think the owners could afford the pay raise?

The permanent refs perform a supremely difficult job every week in front of a TV audience of millions, and the average pay is about $150,000 per season. It sounds like a lot for part-time work, but not when compared to a $9 billion pie.

Instead of debating whether the permanent part-timers are worth more than that, fans and sports pundits should be calling for a new system of officiating that makes the referees full-time employees from the beginning of training camp until the end of the season.

What none of us can perceive from watching slow-motion replays is the incredible speed of the game today and how little time the officials have to get a call right.

Everything looks different from the sidelines. I've had a couple of opportunities to snag a press pass and photograph the action of an NFL game up close and terrifying. In both cases I was unprepared for how quickly a 220-pound running back trying to turn the corner can come thundering into photographers on the sideline. Imagine what it must be like to stand in the midst of the mayhem and watch for a defensive holding call.

Rookie players in the NFL have to adjust to the speed of the pro game. Well, many of the replacement officials who are stepping up this fall to call NFL games are coming from small college football conferences. They are attempting to learn a second set of rules while adjusting to the speed of the NFL.

Mistakes are inevitable, and I say the new zebras earned their stripes Sunday. But it's time for NFL officials to go pro.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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