Last night, while watching the Seahawks-Packers game (and rooting for the Seahawks for the same reason I wore a Giants hat to a Reds game), I saw the end of the rule of law.
For three weeks, the National Football League referees have been locked out in a pensions dispute. The NFL has called in refs from the lower rungs of college sports, causing, to put it politely, controversy. Games have gotten longer by about 15 minutes as the replacement refs double-check the rules and the replays, causing players to test boundaries and fans to scream blue murder.
Last night's game ended with a disputed call in its final seconds—disputed, in fact, by the two line judges standing a short meter from the thing they were disputing. Touchdown? Stop the clock? Pass interference? No one knew. On TV, it clearly looked like an interception, and a Packers win. The head ref for the game called touchdown, and under review, let the call stand.
If almost no one trusted the replacement refs before, after last night, their authority has completely vanished.
The owners have little incentive to end the labor dispute, and strong incentive to stand firm. They're thinking ahead to negotiations with players; appearing to cave in their dispute with the refs might look bad. And fans keep watching, for fifteen extra minutes each week, so the league has an actual financial benefit.
Without trusted referees, though, games will get nastier, messier, and more disputed. Remember the 1994 World Series? Superbowl XLVII may look a lot like it.