Jeff Gray of Old Orchard Beach knows what the NFL replacement officials are facing. Gray, a college football official, has had a taste of the highest level of football.

Gray has worked New York Giants practices in the past.

Gray, who officiates games in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Ivy League and the Patriot League, sympathizes with the replacement officials.

“They have a tough job,” said Gray. “The pro game is played by different rules than college. The hardest part is adjusting to the speed of the game. Division I college football is fast. The NFL has the best of the best from Division I.

“Some of the best college officials can handle it. NFL officials are absolutely the best. They get the cream of the crop. They have the experience.”

Just when NFL fans figured labor strife was a thing of the past, up crops another one, this one involving the NFL officials and the league. Officials and the league are locked in negotiations, with the officials being locked out of working preseason games. The NFL is using replacements officials for exhibitions games and vows it will use them in the regular season if an agreement isn’t reached.

With neither side budging, that’s a distinct possibility.

The replacements include retired Division I officials, Division III officials, and some high school officials.

Football fans are hoping NFL officials return soon, because so far the replacement officials’ performance in preseason games has been less than stellar. It could get ugly if they have to do regular-season games.

“It will hurt the game,” Mark McIlwain of Portland said of the possibility of replacement officials doing regular-season games. “The inexperience is the biggest thing I’m worried about. NFL officials make mistakes. I can’t imagine how many the replacement officials are going to make.”

Gray was a high school official until moving to Division III colleges 10 years ago. Since 2007, he has officiated at the Football Championship Sub-Division level.

Gray and his crew were invited by the Giants to work at their practices. He expects to be invited back this season.

“They’re looking for us to call penalties and give them an idea of what will be called in games,” said Gray. “We’re not there to maintain order in practice. They want to get a better idea of what pass interference is, making sure they’re lined up right, things like that.”

Gray hasn’t been asked by the NFL to be a replacement, and he said he wouldn’t have filled in if he had been asked.

Veteran high school football officials Ray Petit of Saco and Mike Discatio of Portland said they also wouldn’t have worked as replacements.

“I wouldn’t have crossed the line,” said Petit. “I have too much respect for NFL officials. Of all the major sports, I feel NFL officials by far do the best job. They don’t get many things wrong. They have to arrive at the game site a couple of days in advance. They earn every penny they get. For the amount of money the game makes, this is a drop in the bucket for what they’re asking.”

Discatio wonders about the possible repercussions for replacement officials after the lockout ends.

“How are these guys going to be treated when they return to their various leagues?” he said.

One of the biggest concerns among fans is what type of game will it be with replacement officials.

“My concern is that a call or a lack of a call could affect the outcome of a game,” said Craig Cooper of Cape Elizabeth, a Patriots’ season ticket holder.

“The NFL rules change all the time. Will these new officials be up on the rules? For the safety of the players, I hope that the league and the referees can reach an agreement.”

As concerned as football fans are with this current labor issue, it doesn’t compare with last year’s dispute between the owners and players, said Cooper.

“The important thing is that the game is played,” said Cooper. “It’s better than last year when the players themselves threatened to sit out. It’s much more important to have the regular players than the regular officials.”

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

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Twitter: TomChardPPH