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Local NFL referee and line judge express concern about use of replacement officials

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

Two long-time members of the NFL Referees Association said on Friday it will be virtually impossible for the league to duplicate the performance and integrity the union's membership brings to games by using replacement officials.

With the NFL and it's game officials in a labor dispute, the membership of the NFLRA has been locked out since June 4, with the league set to use replacement officials.

"Back whenever I first applied to the NFL it was five years that they spent, not only scouting me, but going through the vetting process of looking into my background, talking to people who knew me," said referee Walt Anderson in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. "They wanted to know a lot more about my character, my work ethic, the things that you were going to do off the field from that standpoint.

"The whole integrity of the game is put in our hands and the last thing (commissioner Roger Goodell) wants to have out there on the field are people that are of potential questionable character."

Anderson, who lives in Sugar Land, said the NFL conducts background checks on its officials every year.

"You pretty much give away a lot of your rights in terms of a lot of privacy, but that goes with the game and you know that going in," Anderson said. "From that standpoint, which I think is a big asset to the NFL. You know that process hasn't gone on over the last couple of weeks. I don't think there's any way, in a matter of just a couple of weeks, you're going to spend what normally took you several years to accomplish with the veteran officials, and even once they were in the league that vetting process continues."

Anderson has been an official in the NFL for 17 years, the last ten as a referee. He has worked in the playoffs for 16 years, including two Super Bowls and four conference championship games.

One member of Anderson's crew is Byron Boston, who lives in Humble.

Boston has been an NFL line judge for 18 years and worked in the playoffs the last 17 seasons, including one Super Bowl and seven conference championship games.

"You have seven officials on the crew, and they generally only put one rookie on each crew," Boston said. "When you have a first-year official, it's very difficult for that crew to perform as well as some of the veteran crews, because you have to spend a lot more time with that rookie official. You have to make sure that he understands not only the rules, but the philosophies behind the rules, how to officiate the game. What the officiating department wants. What they want called.  What they don't want called.

"Having one guy on the crew is difficult at best, but if you have seven guys that had never officiated an NFL game before, that would be a very, very challenging situation for those guys."

Like the NFL's players did when they were locked out in 2011, the officials are making sure they are ready to go when it is time to go back to work.

Boston points out he and his colleagues take written exams to stay on top of their game.

"We're working 50 test questions every week," Boston said. "(Referee) Ed Hochuli sends out tests.

"There are rules that are unique to the NFL, and those rules are not found in the NCAA. They're not found in high school. So in order to be proficient at administering those rules, you have to have experience in working those rules, and I think that that may be the biggest part of the game that may suffer, along with managing a game. It is very difficult to manage an NFL game.

"It's no accident that when you go to commercial, you come back in and you haven't missed two or three plays.  Managing these games is very difficult. I think that along with the difference in the rules, the speed of the game, it will be a very, very sad day for the fans if the guys that know how to do that are not out on the field."

To go along with the exams Boston and Anderson study a lot of video.

"Because it's a real fast game, the NFL is," Anderson said. "If you're not prepared to stay on top of that, it's easy to lose it real quick."

Anderson said both he and Boston are full-time officials. This is how they make their living.

"The ability to see things as accurately as is humanly possible is just not something that can be attained in a matter of a couple of weeks of classroom work," Anderson said.

"To think that you're just going to take some guys that have some officiating experience and being able to put them out on the NFL field and produce the product that the public has been used to, to me is somewhat nieve."

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