Podlesh: Replacement refs 'a concern'

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Chicago Bears player representative Adam Podlesh said Monday evening the idea of the ongoing labor dispute between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association lingering into the regular season is “a bit concerning for the players”.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and ESPN Senior NFL Analyst Chris Mortensen reported Monday that league officials envision starting the NFL regular season with the replacement officials.

“It’s definitely a bit of a concern, I feel, for the players, especially [since] everybody says the preseason is at one speed and once you get up to regular season the speed picks up and it goes to the next level,” Podlesh said. “That is one thing that basically all these refs that are officiating our games haven’t experienced. It’s an unwritten chapter right now in officiating. You don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s the concern for the players: Are they going to be able to keep up with the speed of the game and are they going to make the right calls that are going to make the players feel safe?

“I think a lot of the players have been talking about the replacement refs since we’ve seen them in camp and this first game. The biggest concern is the health and safety of the players. Obviously, the NFL has been stating that they are doing a whole lot to protect the players, and they’ve definitely been making steps to do that. I feel that if the NFL is going to make the steps they have to protect the players then I feel this is something they should take very seriously. The referees are definitely ambassadors when it comes to safety. They are the middlemen when it comes to keeping the players safe and making sure the proper enforcement is being made out on the field. In order to ultimately have a total protection of the players like the NFL wants, you have to have good officials out there.”

The Bears played their first preseason game last week with replacement officials, and while no memorable complaints were made about the officiating crew following the game, Podlesh points to the experience factor as a serious issue if the situation between the sides is not resolved before the Bears open up the regular season on Sept. 9 against the Indianapolis Colts.

“It’s tough to tell with one [preseason] game being played,” Podlesh said. “You can definitely tell with the credibility and the resumes of the referees that are filling in as opposed to the referees being locked out, the NFLRA refs. You can see there is a very big discrepancy in the body of work that they have put in as a refereeing group. That is one thing that is very concerning.”

The current class of replacement referees are comprised of: retired referees, referees dismissed from NCAA Division I college football or were recruited from NCAA Division III, the Arena Football League, the Canadian Football League or other professional football leagues. Standard NFL rules prohibit more than one rookie official to join a crew each year, but if the replacement referees remain in place at the start of the regular season, then every crew working Week 1 will be comprised entirely of rookie NFL officials.