I don’t like to use this segment often to talk about professional sports but I feel compelled to chime in on the growing controversy about the National Football League’s use of replacement referees as the labor dispute with the union representing the regular officials continues.   

Golden Tate #81 of the Seattle Seahawks makes the controversial game winning catch (Kevin Casey, Getty Images)

While the replacement refs are clearly a step backwards for the first two weeks of the season you could at least make the statement that their calls or non-calls did not have a direct impact on the outcome of a game.

My guess would be that’s all the league and its owners cared about but no longer is that the case.  In last night’s Packers-Seahawks game a questionable call (actually a bad call) on the final play of the game resulted in a Seattle victory and this morning the issue has reached its boiling point.

Of course as always the dispute is about money and on the surface I’m inclined to side with the league.

The average referee makes about $150,000 a year and none of them are full-time employees.  All have regular jobs, from school officials to attorneys to business owners who spend their weekends in the fall working NFL games with plenty of perks.  They want more money and at the end of the day the league will give them that but the dispute centers on pensions, the addition of more officials and the league’s interest in making them full-time employees.

The two sides seem far apart and the difference in this case is the refs can afford to hold out because they have regular jobs and most don’t depend on the NFL money for survival.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belicheck grabs at a replacement ref after a controversial call.(NFL)

However the NFL is a league built on image and that image is getting tarnished like never before.  Everything they talk about from credibility to player safety is on the line and the men (and even one woman) who are working their games now are quite simply overmatched.  The replacement refs come from mostly low-level college and high school backgrounds and yes a couple even worked in the Lingerie Football League.

The problem is they have been forced to learn the NFL rulebook in weeks when it truth even the regular refs spend months reviewing old and new rules.

So something has to give and it better be soon.  The Packers were robbed in Seattle last night and the only real question is whose next because it’s coming.