NOT WATCHING: Locked Out Ref Keeps NFL Off TV

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In the mind of a referee, going unnoticed is the mark of a good day.

“That’s our goal," says Des Moines' Scott Helverson. "If they go through a game and you haven’t noticed the referees, then it’s a perfect game for us.”

So it’s safe to say that this NFL season has been FULL of imperfection.

Replacement officials have been on center stage--drawing scathing criticism from coaches, players, commentators and fans.  Helverson, a locked out NFL referee, hears it, too.

“Every day," says the former Hawkeye receiver, who officiated Big Ten and arena league games for years before getting his shot in the NFL. "It’s just it’s hard for the replacement guys, they’re lower level, Division 2, Division 3, some high school guys. It’s just a different game for them. It’s hard to learn this quickly.”

 He and the other NFL refs have stayed quiet and let the antics on the field help make their case with the league.

“I think they’re realizing it now," he says. "I think a lot of people took us for granted in the past and maybe some people are starting to change their mind, now.”

The dispute—which involves compensation and retirement plans—is complicated.  But the effect on the field has been simple: controversial calls and non-calls, and perhaps an inferior product. 

“From the outside looking in, I would say, yeah. I slows the game down, it slows the offenses, it interrupts the flow of the game.  I think it does hurt it.”

Helverson’s family and screen printing business have kept him occupied this fall, but the lockout is costing him about $4500 a week.  It weighs on his mind, and he’s decided not to watch the NFL at all.        

“It’s frustrating," he says, "it’s a sport that I love and a passion of mine…and I love being on the field and I love throwing the flag.”

Should he miss the whole season, he’d lose almost $95,000. But he’s confident that won’t happen.

“I think it will eventually get worked out, sure. It’s business. The players had the same kind of problem and that’s kind of their M.O. and hopefully we’ll get ours straightened out, too.”

And perhaps the focus on the field will return to those actually playing the game.