PlayBook: Invisible Gods

By Fraser Lockerbie

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Last week's 'Inaccurate Reception' has led the return of the referees to the National Football League. But what have we learned? Plus this week's Week Four betting lines.


They say referees should be neither seen nor heard, that they should live silently like lichen in the shadows of the sidelines, omniscient and omnipotent entities, controlling the game like invisible Gods but not commanding the attention of the crowds or the cannibals carnivorating in the press box. At least that’s what they say.

Hours after the Golden Tate incident in Seattle, phones starting ringing around the league, collect calls made by people concerned about losing a few measly dollars and maybe some cents, some nickels and dimes into a 401(k). After the final catch had been caught or not caught or whatever it was that happened on Monday night, owners began owning up to their derisive decision, combing their couch cushions for all kinds of loose coins and change they might otherwise call chump. Roger Goodell, the football czar in charge of train wrecks and treaties alike, was now obliged, like a mean, beaten badger backed into a corner, to accept unconditionally any kind of proposal from his pinstriped opponents, and owners knew full well what it would mean: money, however little, not lining their pockets but instead, in their opinion, lying in rot as a rainy day fund for a bunch of roughshod referees.

But let’s be clear: any one thing that has the potential to drive a multi-billion-dollar industry into the ground in under eight seconds is a certifiable disaster and damned serious thing. When the reputation of your league falls from minor disgrace into full-blown disrepute in about the same time it takes to snap a ball and lob it long downfield, you’ve got one hell-broth of a problem.

This was never really a matter of no money to go around; the $18 million the referees will make en masse this year accounts for about 0.2 % of the nine billion dollars in alleged operating revenue the league made last year. The benefits package, in place until 2016 before it’s moved over to a 401(k), rings in at about $18,000 a head. Peanuts. Two thousand beers sold on any given Sunday. No; what this was was a matter of pushing the lines and hoping not to go too far, the actions of a league that in recent years has repeatedly been caught with its pants down and tried to tightrope out of danger. It is, in short, yet another failed act in an ill-defined play. What are we witnessing here: a comedy or a tragedy?

Whatever it is, it is reactionary; when fans and the media fiefdom cried caution over casual violence, a player safety policy emerged. When we no longer liked what we saw in the actions of our athletes, what we saw was a renewed player code of conduct. And when the replacement officials finally became too unruly for us in good conscience to gamble on, a deal got done to get the real refs back in the game.

And why would we expect anything less from a league that runs on an if it ain’t broke mentality? It’s abundantly clear that the NFL was committed to keeping their checkbooks closed so long as no one caused too big a stink. Why invest in a superior product when an inferior one sells just as well? This is the NFL, after all; talk is cheap and morals are only a matter of “in the red” circumstance. 

This Week's Lines: 

Circumstances beyond our control have forced us into nothing but quick slants this week. We’ll be back with high action reasoning come next Friday:

New England (-4) over Buffalo

New York (+2) over Philadelphia

Cincinnati (-2.5) over Jacksonville

San Diego (-1) over Kansas City

Atlanta (-7) over Carolina

Minnesota (+5) over Detroit

Oakland (+7) over Denver

San Francisco (-4) over New York

Green Bay (-7.5) over New Orleans

Chicago (+3.5) over Dallas

Arizona (-2.5) over Miami

Houston (-12) over Tennessee

St. Louis (+3) over Seattle

Washington (+3) over Tampa Bay

Last Week: 8-7

Overall: 25-19-1

Catch up on past PlayBook’s here.


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