A labor issue: NFL & referees lockout
Posted on Oct 03, 2012 in Opinion
As we are witness to another homecoming week, the buildup to the football game is tangible. Despite our record, I am genuinely excited about the trajectory of the team. When game time comes, the referees will take their spots and go about the thankless task of officiating another match up. They inevitably will make a few poor calls, and there may be the ritualized fan backlash in response. Still, most people will miss the big picture. At least the regular refs are at the game – unlike the ones locked out in the NFL.
For the start of this season, NFL owners have locked out their union referees due to a dispute that has stretched over the past several months. The main points of contention center on pension benefits and the addition of reserve crews. The NFL wants to end offering an average of $5.3 million per year in guaranteed pension benefits to the officials’ pension plan, and instead tie retirement contributions to a 401(k)-style setup.
The National Football League Referees Association (NFLRA) is against the creation of these 401(k) plans, where performance is contingent on a volatile stock market. Moreover, the NFL seeks to create and groom at least 3 additional officiating crews to serve in a back-up role, in case individuals in a regular crew are underperforming. The NFLRA has bristled against this proposal, though.
So we are left with scab referees who have been put in charge of officiating the first 3 weeks of games. Unsurprisingly, these supposed “replacements,” as they are dubbed in the media, are causing quite a mess. The in-game decision making is expectably slow. As a result, there are large parts of a quarter or half that seem to drag on much longer than normal. Penalties have gone uncalled, and there are a few instances where phantom challenges and yardage have been falsely awarded.
Yet, the most visible and potentially egregious example of scab incompetence came in the Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks. Green Bay was ahead, and there were only a few seconds left in the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson, the Seahawks quarterback, threw a Hail Mary pass into the back of the end zone. A Green Bay defensive back, who was almost entirely draped by a Seattle receiver, intercepted the ball. However, the referee called the pass a touchdown for Seattle, and even after a 10 minute review, the call stood. What followed was outcry and frustration from fans and players when witnessing a display of gross incompetence.
In the wake of a number of former players bringing a class-action lawsuit against the NFL for concussion-related symptoms, people are wondering why a league that espouses the need for player safety is employing replacements from such heralded areas as the Lingerie Football League to be the judges of violent on-the-field actions. Likewise, why are NFL owners so concerned about paying adequate contributions to referees – even if they are only part time workers? It’s not as if the NFL is struggling to make ends meet, with the league taking in an average of $9 billion, annually. This amount makes it the most profitable sports entity in the U.S., where its owners are mostly billionaires.
The two sides may come to an agreement soon, or the standoff could drag on for an unnerving length of time. Whenever the regular officials do return to the field, they will not be infallible and will make mistakes that fans will gripe about. But their experience will be needed and, hopefully, appreciated. A league’s hubris should not stand in the way.