In case you haven't been following, the NFL is currently locking out its referees and will be using replacement referees until a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached. And the two sides aren't even speaking at this point, so we could be in for a long season.
Where are these replacement referees coming from? In a memo obtained by SB Nation last month, the NFL instructed scouts to approach prospective replacement officials and said the league was specifically looking for:
1. An official who have recently retired from a successful career in college officiating and is still physically able to officiate at a high level of competency.
2. Lower division college officials, professional league officials and semi-professional league officials whose window of opportunity for advancement has pretty much closed but who have the ability to work higher levels but just got overlooked.
Does the Lingerie Football League count as a semi-professional league? Because that's where at least one replacement official reportedly came from. Yesterday, Fox's Mike Pereira -- the former VP of officiating for the NFL -- said that the NFL has been dubiously trumping up the experience level of the replacement officials.
ProFootballTalk first reported on Pereira's comments:
"Regarding Craig Ochoa, for example, who served as the referee during the Hall of Fame game, Pereira says that the league has trumped up Ochoa's experience level.
They've tried to say that Craig Ochoa... was a BCS official, that he worked in the Big Ten. He didn't work in the Big Ten. He's not been a major college official. I don't think the NFL is going to say that he actually got released midway through the last Lingerie Football League season as a referee. I don't think the league is going to put that out. The league wants as little out as possible. They don't want people talking about it. They don't want me talking about it."
The NFL denies that Ochoa was fired from the Lingerie League and says he has many years of experience officiating college football. Still, in the very first preseason game of the season -- the Hall of Fame game -- the NFL used an official who may or may not have been able to hack it in the Lingerie Football League. Want to guess how it turned out?
It wasn't pretty.
"We were all laughing on the sidelines at how clueless they were," one player told CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman. Freeman added, "It got so bad players began mocking the replacement officials. Players also say some of the officials began arguing amongst themselves vocally in front of the players."
The NFL is showing no signs that it intends to end the lockout, meaning that players and fans will be subjected to even worse officiating than usual. You might think that protecting the integrity of the game would be paramount to NFL owners. They did just file a lawsuit trying to prevent sports gambling in New Jersey after all. But then, NFL owners have never let bad public relations stand in the way of making every last dollar they can (see also: NFL's blackout policy).
To all the fans who seem to think there is no difference because NFL officials are terrible anyway, think again. It can get worse -- a lot worse. Considering that the NFL probably put its best replacement crew out there for the Hall of Fame game, we should all shudder to think how bad some of the worst replacement crews might be.
To quote Deadspin's Jack Dickey, "So far, so bad."