It's not for us to say who's right in the battle of the fancy suits and the zebra shirts. But this much is clear after the Packers-Seahawks game Monday night: The National Football League can't keep its first-class image and use third-class officials.
The last call of the game gave the victory to Seattle, brought rage to "Packer Nation" and provided endless fodder for the sports commentariat.
Seattle receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings both went up for a pass in the end zone and came down together with the ball. At first, replacement officials gave conflicting signals about whether it was a completion or an interception, then called it a touchdown. Seattle won 14-12, a decision the NFL confirmed Tuesday.
The replacements -- brought in to officiate while real referees are locked out by team owners in a contract dispute -- are doing the best they can, but it's not good enough. People care deeply about NFL teams. They invest money to attend games and buy merchandise. The regular officials, who make an average of $149,000 a year, are locked out because they want raises and don't want performance reviews or changes in their retirement benefits.
The iffy replacements may help the NFL's case for performance review. After all, most of us face evaluations. But their spotty calls in the season's first three weeks make an even stronger case for the real officials to return.
The NFL is successful because it has a great product. To remain great, the outcomes have to be trustworthy. Today, the fans are hurting because of bad officiating. If it isn't fixed soon, the league itself will suffer, and deservedly so.