Mike McCombs

Official word: Blame NFL for this, not replacement refs

At first Steve Brush didn't want to say anything.

Officials never comment on the job another official is doing. It's part of the code.

In fact, Brush pointed out, they usually aren't supposed to even talk to the media.

As the director of officials for District 8 of the S.C. Football Officials Association, Brush is in charge of the crews that work the high school games in Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester and Jasper counties. He knows football officiating.

And he's a big NFL fan. He's seen the games on TV this season. He saw Monday night's debacle.

Since the NFL owners locked the officials out before the preseason, the performance of the replacements has been a source of frustration for players and coaches. And anger and ridicule for the general public.

Brush knew the questions that were coming.

Somebody had to stand up for these guys. And speaking only in general terms, he agreed to give an official's point of view.

"I honestly think that Steve Young said it best in that, whether you have a legitimate beef or not with the officials, ..." he hesitated, before changing thoughts. "Two Fridays from now, my crew works the Beaufort at Bluffton game. When I leave, I don't know if it's going to be the people in the stands or the players or the Beaufort coach or Ken Cribb, but someone is going to think there is a questionable call."

In general, Brush said, the television announcers and fans watching at home don't always know the factors that go into a call -- remember the "tuck" rule? -- and he pointed out what we all should remember, that in quick judgment calls, the officials don't have the luxury of watching the replay numerous times. (Though that doesn't explain Monday's final call, which was only allowed to stand after video review.)

"These guys were given fewer than 90 days to be ready, and the rules differences from where they were working to where they're working now may seem like not much to most people, but they can be a big deal," said Brush, pointing out he knows a high school official working in the NFL right now. "I think they're doing the best they can. They jumped out of the pan into the fire. If they don't bring back the union, you're going to see more of what we've seen. But you'll also see them get better."

Why would these guys subject themselves to this? The only guys less popular right now might be the two men running for president.

"Some guys read it, they shrug it off. Some guys never read it," Brush said. "If you're going to be an official and be any good, you have to have thick skin and make the best judgment and let the chips fall where they may."

Brush isn't blind. (Insert your own referee joke here.) Like everyone who has really watched an NFL game this season, he knows there are issues. But he's at the same conclusion that, undoubtedly, a lot of other people have reached.

This is the fault of the NFL, not the officials.

"They could have taken steps to be far more prepared," Brush said. "If they knew they were going to lock (the officials) out, they should have been ready for this."

A business owner himself, Brush was quick to point out that he's not much of a fan of labor unions. That being said, he thinks the officials' demands -- primarily a 5- to 11-percent pay raise and staying with their pension plans, rather than converting to 401k plans -- should have been addressed by a league set to bring in $9 billion in revenue this season.

"I don't think they're really being outrageous," Brush said of the union.

Back to the on-the-field issues, Brush said the call that was made -- correctly or incorrectly, he didn't say -- at the end of Monday's game is a rare one. In his career as an official, he's seen it in a game he called just once.

"For there to be simultaneous possession, there must be four hands on the ball ..." Brush started but never finished, for fear of treading in dangerous waters.

"I'm glad it's not my problem."