TORONTO, ONTARIO, - Tom Higgins has some sympathy for the NFL's embattled replacement officials.
The NFL locked out its regular officials in June and has employed replacements for the opening three weeks of the 2012 season. But criticism of the replacement officials has steadily increased following numerous missed calls, confusion over challenges and on-field errors.
"I really do feel bad for the replacement officials," said Higgins, the CFL's director of officiating. "It's a lose-lose situation because players and coaches are playing differently.
"They're playing to what they think they can get away with.''
Fortunately for CFL fans, Higgins doesn't see a similar scenario happening north of the border.
"It would be very difficult for us if it were to come that," Higgins said, adding he didn't think there would even be enough qualified Canadian officials to pick up the slack. "But our relationship with our association is such that I don't believe that would ever be the case.''
NFL games this season have been plagued by debatable penalties and slow reviews, prompting some to question whether the replacement referees actually know NFL rules.
The uproar grew louder Sunday after referee Ken Roan twice granted San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh fourth-quarter video challenges in the 49ers' 24-13 upset loss to Minnesota after Harbaugh called timeout. Neither timeout should've been allowed.
And New England coach Bill Belichick is facing a potential league fine for grabbing an official in the Patriots' 31-30 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night.
The NFL Players' Association has also voiced its displeasure, sending an open letter to team owners requesting the lockout of the regular officials end. The union added the use of replacement officials creates an unsafe working environment.
"Probably the biggest challenge you hear in officiating across the world is consistency," Higgins said. "I'm a member of the National Association of Sports Officials and we're the NBA, NFL, baseball, tennis and rodeo and every time we get together that's the one thing that everybody has in common.
"I always appreciated officiating and officials my whole career but I appreciate them more now. What a thankless job and how thick-skinned you need to be. There's not a game go by that someone isn't happy with one of their decisions, whether right or wrong because you can be right and still be screamed at.''