The Green Bay Packers' preseason opener has taken on an added level of significance: As you might have heard, the NFL has confirmed that Shannon Eastin will become the first female member of a game officiating crew Thursday night when the Packers play at the San Diego Chargers.
ESPN will televise the game beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
This is an important moment, and Eastin's assignment will generate relevant discussion on a number of levels. Hopefully there were no barriers for qualified women to reach the top of the football officiating ladder, but if there were, you would hope that Eastin's accomplishment would negate them.
But it's also a reminder that the NFL has locked out its permanent officials and is using replacements for training camp scrimmages and now preseason games. This could significantly impact the way the games are played. We don't have a list of every replacement candidate, but reportedly, most of them have come from the Arena Football League and lower-level college conferences. Eastin, for example, has been a referee for Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference games.
Male or female, these officials face a difficult transition in terms of rules and speed of the game. Their performance will provide leverage to one of the sides in this contract dispute. If they flop, permanent officials would be justified in seeking heftier raises and benefits. If there are no discernable differences in the games -- and remember, preseason games are already sloppy and have little flow -- then the NFL could maintain its stance.