I know we haven't discussed the ongoing labor dispute between the NFL and the NFLRA around here much. Some of the other writers here have briefly touched upon it from time to time; Ted made a case in one of his stories for not panicking over the replacement officials, although we also discussed the fear that officials for ‘non-marquee' (see: Vikes v. Jags) games would be worse.
I do have to say from what I've seen it's not been terrible. Yes, there have been really bad calls- giving the Seahawks an extra timeout, allowing the Steelers to not only get away with 12 men on the field (boy we could have used that freebie a few years ago, huh?) but also to call a timeout after the play clock had sat on 0 for about a full second. Still, neither of those ‘beneficiaries' won their respective games, so we've avoided the doomsday scenario of a game going the wrong way due to referee blunder. And quite honestly, for all Deadspin can say, the rest of the blunders weren't exactly any worse than what the regular officials do in the course of an NFL week.
I've been somewhat following the whole debacle of ‘negotiations', not so much because I fear the replacements will do a horrible job and destroy the integrity of the game (not that it's an invalid fear by any means, mind you), but mostly because by Jebus it's football news, and papa's been deprived of his sweet, sweet medicine for far too long.
I did want to, however, write a story regarding what I feel about the whole thing. It's not too long (trust me, I mean it this time!), but I think there are some key things to point out, things that I feel are very, very damning for the referees in this dispute. It's not about the money- honestly, I have seen a few numbers regarding the difference and some stuff on what each side wants, but really, I don't care- it's about some of the ‘finer' points if you will that the refs are holding firm on. And as a football fan, I think it's something that should be pointed out more often.
Leap of Faith!
Point the first: the issue of a "bench" of officials meant to replace underperforming refs. While the NFLRA is claiming that it's unfair because they would be paid out of the same pot of money (therefore reducing the salaries all around in theory), quite frankly I don't see how the officials can escape this one. Fans have been clamoring for more accountability on the referees' parts for blown calls, especially ones that have decided the outcomes of games. We Viking fans have a laundry list of games where we have legitimate complaints that this occurred, and we're far from alone. If the referees want to make a case that a bench of referees should increase the ‘pay pot' or whatever you want to call it, fine- but I as a fan really, really hope the general idea happens. Practically every other position in the NFL faces the risk of replacement due to bad performance, from the water boys right up to head coaches and general managers. Referees really should not be any different. The NFL has backed the referees, even when they clearly made huge mistakes, in the past with a vengeance- Brad Childress was even fined back in '10 for calling out the atrocious officiating in the first Green Bay game. The fact that the NFL is just now deciding to institute some system of accountability is long overdue, and the referees should realize that they will be held to certain standards. Now, I'll admit, the vast majority of the time the refs do a solid job in a difficult position, and it's not likely that we'll see that bench being used very often. But it would certainly go a long way towards mollifying angry fans after a blown call/s cost their team a game if said offending refs were ‘benched' for a game or two. Their stance against this rings somewhat of a fear of accountability; again, I understand the ‘but it would lower our raises!' stance to a degree, but there really should be a better system in place for when refs screw things up.
Point the second, and one that I've only read about in passing mention here and there (but gets my blood boiling nonetheless): while the NFL has not fully made it a point of negotiations, apparently the idea of making the referees full-time was brought up... and the refs rejected it immediately. As I just said, apparently the NFL doesn't feel it necessary to force the point at this juncture, but the fact that the refs rejected the idea angers me. I wrote a little while back that I felt that the NFCCG in 09/10 wasn't so much lost because of the Saint's bounty scandal, but because the referees let them get away with numerous penalties. I ended that story with an age-old cry from NFL fans: make the referees full-time. (I also called for a system of accountability via fines; quite frankly the above scenario in point the first would suit me just fine.) It's something that many have called for numerous times. So, why, exactly did the refs reject becoming full-time so strongly? Money, of course. See, refs make quite large amounts- roughly between $42K and $120K per season, currently- of money at their part time gig, but they also make the money that they get at their full time jobs as well. Now, this isn't meant to bash officials on how much they make; let's face it, it's a very tough and oft underrated job. And I can understand in a sense the desire that the referees want to keep both their incomes. But we've been pointing fingers at the NFL for years now for not making referees full-time- and yet, it appears that it is the REFS themselves who might be resisting that move.
All in all the refs better wake up. Until the replacement officials blow a game outright, their presence on the field will be noticed less and less as the season goes on. Sure, we'll all notice the egregious and often silly mistakes that are made, and the replacements will remain the butt of many a joke, but so long as games play out the way they "should", nobody's really going to be pushing the NFL hard to get the regular guys back. And quite frankly, as that leverage on the NFL's side increases, I really hope they force the referees to accept the bench of officials; and I would even hope (but frankly don't expect) that the league begins to even force the issue of going full-time.