I need a respite from collegiate sports today; consider today’s rant an International NCAA-Free Zone. Let me begin today’s comments with what I believe is an under-reported aspect of whatever the NFL does or tries to do with its 2020 season. We have heard about the difficulties teams had with the draft and not being able to interview all the players they wanted to interview; we have heard about the difficulties that new coaches have installing their ‘new systems” using Zoom chats instead of practice sessions and Organized Team Activities; we have heard about player choices to “opt-in or opt-out”. Here is something we have heard almost nothing about:
- The NFL officiating crews.
Like NFL players, the officials have the choice to “opt-in or opt-out”. Unlike the players, NFL officials have other employment; and while NFL officiating pays well, NFL officials have professional salaries to fall back on if they choose to “opt-out”. Moreover, as a result of bargaining with the union that represents the officials, any one of them can get a $30K payment from the league and take a season off without jeopardizing their job status for future years. On the surface, this should be an economic choice for individual officials and then everything can sort itself out as the season gets set to begin. I think that is an overly simplistic way to look at the situation.
Just as players use OTAs and training Camp to get ready for a season, so do the officials. I am sure all the officials have been studying their rulebooks – and particularly any changes that might be incorporated for 2020 – for at least the last several months. I am equally confident that all the officials are on pace to be in proper physical condition to take the field in a real game in September – or whenever the 2020 season begins in earnest. But wait; there’s more:
- Officials use the meaningless Exhibition Games as a say to get themselves and their instincts/reactions back into the groove of game action. There will be no Exhibition Games this year; for some officials, they will not have “done a football game” of any sort since New Year’s. NFL officials are very good – – but a little warm up/practice has been part of their routine for all their career. They will go without that in 2020.
- Officials use OTAs and Training Camps as an opportunity to meet with coaches and players to go over rules and rules changes and points of emphasis for the upcoming season. I suppose those could be accomplished via Zoom chatting, but my suspicion is that live interactions would be preferable.
Every NFL fan over the age of 25 can remember the fiasco of “Replacement Refs” about 10 years ago. The NFL tried to put officials on the field who were not prepared to officiate a professional game played at competitive speed. I am NOT saying that NFL officials will be similarly unprepared because these officials have done NFL games before, but I would not be surprised to see the first week or two contain some botched assignments.
There are other officiating hurdles for 2020. The NFL has relied on fixed crews for its games and those officials on a crew come together from various parts of the country every weekend. Travel restrictions within the US could put a crimp in that system; if Joe Flabeetz is on a crew and cannot travel to the game site without a mandatory quarantine period, what would the league do? Do the game with one fewer official than usual? Bring in a “newbie” from the bullpen? Having done a lot of basketball officiating in my younger days, I can say with confidence that continuity is an important part of the chemistry in an officiating crew. That too will be “different” in 2020.
Do not infer from the above that I believe the NFL will be a clown show in 2020 because the officials will be like the “Replacement Refs”. At the same time, recognize that an important element of NFL competition other than players and coaches will also need to adjust to novel circumstances in 2020 – – if there is a season in 2020.
Moving on … running back, Derrius Guice, of the Washington WTFs turned himself in to police on charges of felony domestic violence – – supposedly to include attempted strangulation – – and battery and a bunch of other stuff. He was released on bail and now will meander through the judicial system defending himself against those charges. The WTFs issued a statement saying that they were aware of the arrest and were gathering information. Very soon after that, coach Ron Rivera announced that he had decided to release Derrius Guice and that it was his decision alone.
Guice’s lawyer was not pleased with that move at all. He said that the team’s action was hasty and was taken without asking him even a single question about the defense that he will mount on behalf of Derrius Guice. The lawyer said that there was not even a smattering of due process in the team’s decision. I am not an attorney but my citizen’s understanding of “due process” is that it protects a citizen from the government taking away a citizen’s access to life, liberty, property or pursuit of happiness arbitrarily. I do not ever recall reading or hearing that the “due process clauses” contained in the US Constitution protect citizens from actions taken by the Washington WTFs or the NFL whether they are arbitrary or not.
The announcement by Coach Rivera about his decision was interesting in juxtaposition with another action taken recently by him as part of his program to change the culture of the WTFs. Remember, Guice was released after being charged with felony domestic violence. Within about 48 hours of that personnel action, the WTFs announced the activation of Reuben Foster who spent last year on the Disabled List after blowing out his knee in Training Camp. How did Foster come to be a member of the WTFs in the first place?
- He was released by the SF 49ers after Foster was arrested multiple times including one – – wait for it – – for domestic violence.
The distinctions between the Foster case and the Guice case are:
- The domestic violence charges against Foster were eventually dropped. The charges against Guice remain in place. The Niners, however, did cut Foster when the charges against him were still in place.
- Most scouts believe that Foster is a player with a “high ceiling”. Players with that label tend to be treated more positively/leniently than “good players”.
That second distinction may not seem fair – – but it is the way of the world…
Finally, since I was speaking about a player losing his job over alleged improper behavior, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times along a similar line:
“St. John’s fired assistant fencing coach Boris Vaksman after video surfaced of him saying Abraham ‘Lincoln made a mistake’ when he ended slavery in the U.S.
“In other words, foiled himself on that one.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………