One of the most bitter labor actions in sports history occurred when the NFL locked out its officials before the 2012 preseason. Football Bowl Subdivision officials would come closest to having the sort of experience that would qualify them as replacements. Indeed, the NFL dipped into the major college ranks during a lockout 11 years earlier. This time, the league could not do that since several conference coordinators were current or former NFL officials. To assist the NFL by signing on as a replacement would mean losing assignments in 2012 and possibly beyond.
The NFL hastily put together a roster of replacement officials with varying levels of experience, including Shannon Eastin, who would become the first woman to work a regular season game.
The replacement officials were roundly criticized onfield and off. One was found to have overstated his credentials. Another was pulled from an assignment at the 11th hour after he posted a message on social media that he was going to work a game involving a team for which he was a rabid fan.
Push came to shove on Sept. 24, 2012. On the final play of a nationally televised game between Seattle and Green Bay, replacement official Lance Easley ruled a touchdown on a play that appeared to be an interception. The outcry was so great that the league and the NFL Referees Association crafted a new collective bargaining agreement that put the regular officials back on the field the next week.
Referee’s feature on the lockout and resolution appeared well after the settlement, but illustrated again the magazine’s hallmark: Let the story play out and get inside information that can be found in no other publication.