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Harris Poll: Football Fans Missed The Real Referees But Didn't Desert The NFL

By Barry Janoff

October 1, 2012: Having endured a pre-season and three weeks of the regular season with games that were officiated by replacement referees, it came as no surprise that 80% of football fans said in a survey that the quality of those NFL games was worse than games officiated by men from the NFL Referees Assn.

However, given the uproar over what was perceived as missed calls, lengthy reviews and an over-abundance of penalties, it may come as more of a surprise that 15% said there was no difference between the replacement refs and the real-deal guys, or that 5% said the substitutes were somewhat or a lot better.

The findings come from a Harris Poll conducted by Harris Interactive between Sept. 25-27, 2012 among 2,475 adults (aged 18 and over), of whom 1,466 said they follow professional football.

The lockout of NFL referees by the league was resolved when the two sides agreed to an eight-year deal, which was ratified this past weekend. The lockout was lifted so that the official refs could handle the Thursday Night Football game on NFL Network on Sept. 27 between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns.

The situation came to a head during ESPN's Monday Night Football telecast on Sept. 24 when the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Green Bay Packers on a disputed last-second Hail Mary pass. That was the exclamation point on a game in which, despite 24 penalty flags for 245 yards, several key penalties appeared to have been missed.

"The poll found that 28% of those surveyed put the blame on the NFL, 14% on the NFL Referee's Assn. and 45% said both sides were equally to blame."

Regarding the lockout, 28% of those surveyed put the blame on the NFL, 14% on the NFL Referee's Assn. and 45% said both sides were equally to blame. Some 13% said they weren't sure which side to blame.

When asked what harmful effects might come out of the situation, 58% said the game itself would be hurt the most, with that number skewing even higher among fans ages 45-54 (63%) and 55+ (66%).

Concurrently, 21% said fans would be hurt the most, 15% said players and 5% said that the group that would be hurt the most was the referees.

Despite the lockout and fallout, the Harris Poll found that more Americans than ever are fans of pro football. The survey found that 59% of Americans follow football, compared to 55% in 2011 and 53% in 2012. Harris said it first began to ask this question in 1992, when 49% said they were pro football fans.

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