To judge by the intensity of the cries from sportswriters and football fans to END THE REFEREE LOCKOUT NOW!! one might imagine that the NFLs' replacement referees were the first refs to ever blow a call.
In reality, the phenomenon of blown calls was known to football fans, even those in Wisconsin, prior to last night's Packers - Seahawks game.
In fact, Packers fans in particular should have more perspective than most on the matter. If you're going to lose a game on a terrible call, it is far better for it to happen in week 3 than in, say, the Wild Card game.
This isn't to justify bad calls or to say that fans shouldn't care, but simply that they should realize that the officiating by replacement referees is only worse by a matter of degree.
Think of it this way: we typically get about one epically awful call per season. Let's use that as a baseline. That's about 1 irredeemably horrid call out of 267 total regular season and playoff games in a year. (We won't count blown calls in preseason or Pro Bowl games because honestly, who cares?)
In comparison, the replacement refs have delivered an historically terrible call after just 48 games. Based on that sample, one could say that the replacement referees are six times more likely to completely blow a major call than the locked out referees.
That's significant, but far from the end of the world, especially since the difference should narrow dramatically the longer the lockout goes on; the main thing that separates the replacement refs from the locked out refs is experience, and the replacement refs are getting more every week.
Moreover, while fans are perfectly justified in being unhappy about the temporary decline in the quality of officiating, claims that the NFL "needs" to end the lockout seem misguided at best.
Think about it from the perspective of each constituency - the referees curently locked out, and the fans expressing outrage at the replacement referees.
Referees are generally the one set of employees on the field that have not participated in the dramatic increase in NFL revenues over the past few decades. The NFL has been able to keep referee compensation to what is, within the context of a $9 billion revenue stream, a rounding error, on the theory that nobody pays to watch the referees do their job.
If the NFL caves after three weeks with replacement referees, the league would essentially be endorsing the view that fans do, to a much more significant extent than hitherto appreciated, pay to see the referees do their jobs. This would represent a major shift in bargaining power. If the NFL is not prepared to keep its lockout in place after a high profile bad call, the long term costs will dwarf the amounts the referees are currently seeking.
So the NFL has a major financial incentive to hold the line on the referees' demands, unless there are large offsetting costs to hanging in there while the replacement refs get their sea legs.
Fans and writers expressing outrage today claim that there are such costs; that the damage to the integrity of the game will mute fan interest and therefore result in lost revenues.
This claim is, to use a technical economic term, bullshit. It is bullshit because of another economic term, explained by Steve Young: inelastic demand - in this case, for the NFL.
The fact that fans are hyperventilating over last night's terrible call just shows how emotionally invested they are in the NFL. The reality is that football fans are cheap dates, and we will keep watching no matter how
plain Roger Goodell makes it that he is just not that into us.
NFL fans came back after the USFL, and after the Chicago Spare Bears, and after the tuck rule game. Not only did they come back, but continued paying ever more, through spiraling ticket prices, and through public subsidies for stadiums, and through personal seat licenses, and through cable television bills that effectively allow the NFL to tax nearly every television viewer in the country, whether they love football or detest it.
In summation: the replacement refs aren't the end of the world, they will get much better over time, and as justifiably upset as fans are at a call like we saw last night, the NFL knows it has much to lose by caving to the locked out refs, and little to lose by angering its fans.
The replacement refs aren't going anywhere until the locked out refs cave. And you will continue to watch, and you will like it.