The NFL seems incapable lately of starting a season without labor issues. Last year it was the players, and this year it is the officials. NFL officials are without a contract, and replacement officials have taken their place in preseason action as the work action has escalated. The betting public is obviously sensitive to NFL labor issues in the first place, so this story is definitely a concern. Given that these replacement officials are far from comparable replacements — Division I officials have pledged not to moonlight, so the league had to scrape the bottom of the barrels to find these guys. That means it’s sure to be a bigger story as time goes along, too.
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There are some real issues to consider here from a betting perspective. There are a couple that are real reasons for concern. As is typical in cases like this, though, there are more issues that are going to be significantly overcompensated for by bettors. Here’s a look at both:
Cause for concern
Game speeds up
The first preseason game is the slowest and sloppiest game of the whole year — with the exception of the last preseason game for veteran teams that just want to avoid getting hurt. That means that every game in which the replacement officials appear from now on is going to be faster and harder to officiate than the first game was. If the replacements are still being used when the regular season starts then the jump in speed is going to be dramatic. That’s a reason for concern because the officials had a lot of issues in the first preseason game. There weren’t a lot of dramatic issues, but there were some embarrassing and concerning gaffes and a general lack of confidence and certainty. You can expect problems to increase exponentially as the stakes ratchet up.
Some calls have been really odd
There is one play that has received a lot of attention that is a good example of what the problems could be. A kick was fielded at the four-yard line. The official was in position, and he signaled the ball dead. But then he signaled a touchback. That just doesn’t happen on the four-yard line, so the call was a pretty clear sign that the official was flustered at best, and incompetent at worst. Again, that’s not likely to get any better as things progress.
Reasons to take a deep breath and relax
Not as bad as feared
The officials have made laughable calls at times and there have been some issues. If you are being honest, though, you have to admit that for the most part the officials were essentially invisible in the first preseason game — just like they are expected to be. The real officials aren’t going to be at the top of their game in the first game of the preseason, either, and they make mistakes. The replacement officials are clearly a step down from the real deal, but the step isn’t as significant as people think.
Time frame isn’t going to be long
There is a chance, of course, that the officials will be out all year, or that their union will be broken. Far more likely, though, this thing will be over soon — perhaps before the regular season starts. The issues are significant — pensions, the number of officials, and the ability of officials to have second jobs are among the biggest issues. The pressure to solve the problems is going to be more significant, though. There is a good chance that the players will show solidarity for the officials, and that public outrage will escalate and intensify pressure. In the grand scheme of things the league isn’t talking about a whole lot of money, so they will find a way to make a deal and avoid major potential embarrassment. It could easily stretch into the regular season, but it’s hard to imagine it last more than a couple of games. Because the issue isn’t likely to be a long-lasting one it’s not really one bettors need to spend a lot of time worrying about.
People are going to do the panicking for you
The public likes to panic about situations, so they are going to panic about this one. They will attach too much significance to the issue, and that will be reflected in how lines are set and how they move. If oddsmakers have a close eye on a situation — and they will here — then you really don’t need to worry about it too much. There is more than enough to really worry about without spending time dwelling on this.
Too complex to really worry about
The problem with worrying too much about the impact of replacement officials is that it is impossible to accurately predict what the impact will be. In any given game there could be issues or none at all. If there are issues they could be small or they could be significant. If they are significant they could impact the outcome of the game, or they could have no real impact. If they do impact the outcome of the game you can’t predict how much it will impact it or what impact it will have. It’s totally unpredictable, so there is no way to meaningfully factor it into your handicapping. When you can’t control something like this you can either ignore it or not bet on the NFL until the situation is resolved. I don’t know about you, but I’d choose the former.