Have you ever heard the shouts of “C’mon ref!” or “Ref, you suck!” during a football game? This season, we may be criticizing a whole new roster of officials and it’s likely to get dirty.
Veteran referees of the NFL are protesting the league’s proposed changes for the 2012-2013 season. Negotiations between the NFL and the National Football League Referees Association (NFLRA) have been going on since June 3rd and no agreements are in sight. Let’s break down each issue on the table, taken from ESPN.com, and what it would mean for officials, players and fans:
- The league wants to add three additional crews to support the existing refs. League spokesman Greg Aiello said "this would reduce stress on the officials by allowing each official to work fewer games, would reduce travel, would allow us to do more intensive training, integrate younger officials more effectively, increase diversity, and improve quality of officiating." The union disagrees.
This will affect the veteran referees in a big way. Not only will they probably be limited in the amount of games they call, it’s a very real possibility that their pay will be cut because of the addition of such a large amount of employees.
In terms of players, they will be dealing with a bevy of rookie refs and it’s inevitable that they will take advantage of the inexperience and fight more calls. There’s also talk that the players fear for their safety with newbie officials; players say they feel that newer referees need a lot of experience making calls at the speed of an NFL game. It would be really hard to replace the 1,385 collective years of experience that the current refs hold. Lastly, fans might lose interest in the game, not unlike the MLB lockout of 1994-95 due to pure frustration.
- Currently, the majority of NFL officials are part time employees with full-time jobs in other industries. The league is proposing revising the program to only include full-time officials but the union has its complaints about that as well.
"The NFLRA is not opposed to full time officials if they are fairly compensated," the union said Thursday. "While the NFL has never made any compensation proposal, comparable positions in other professional sports at the 20-year level earn approximately $350,000 to $400,000 and are provided health insurance, a pension, time off with pay and numerous other benefits."
The veteran referees aren’t entirely convinced that all of the benefits of their current full-time jobs can be replaced by the opportunity presented by the NFL. If they can come to an agreement, it would be in everyone’s best interest to keep the same officials throughout the season; consistency in such an inconsistent league should be welcomed with open arms. Fans and players alike will appreciate the personal level that full time refs would integrate into the games.
- Not surprisingly, salary is an issue between the two groups. The veteran officials concede that the league is publicly claiming a 5-to-11-percent increase in salary but say that it is a false statement. Instead, the officials said the proposal "includes aggregate game fee compensation increases of 2.82 percent per year, not the rates publicly claimed by the league.
In fact, the NFL's proposal does not contain any salary schedule. Rather it contains aggregate game fees for all officials to be paid per a schedule to be developed by the NFLRA."
The league claims that if the salary pool permits, the salary increase might be an option for select employees, but that answer won’t fly with a union that represents ALL of the vets. If the league is expecting to pull experienced officials out of their respective full time positions, they better have the paycheck to back it up. Knowing that an official must have five years of experience just to call a Super Bowl game, it would be a great disservice to everyone if the NFL would have to rely on rookies because they were too stubborn to pay the veterans the money they deserve.
- The last item in negotiation is the existing pension plan. The union said the league plans to freeze and ultimately terminate it. The NFLRA offered to "grandfather" the current defined benefit plan only for current officials.
It’s unknown how this will impact anyone other than the families of the veteran officials, but the league last proposed a 401(k) that would average annual contributions of $20,000.
So how are the replacement officials doing so far? It seems to be a mixed bag.
History was made this month when Shannon Eastin became the first woman in the NFL's 97-year history to officiate a preseason game, and she was give the opportunity due to the referee lockout. Eastin has 16 years of college experience and appeared to make all of her calls correctly during the San Diego Chargers and Green Bay Packers game earlier this month.
Conversely, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh began to comment on the calls made by replacement referees during his team's 20-9 loss to the Texans on Saturday but then retracted anything else he was going to say.
“Was it us? Was it them? Was it … things I’ve been instructed not to comment on, so I won’t comment on them and don’t even ask me,” he said.
An erroneous call by the replacements made during the San Diego/Dallas game on Saturday may have cost the Cowboys the game. After an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit by Chargers safety Eric Weddle during a Cowboys pass, linebacker Donald Butler came up with the interception before it hit the ground. Even with automatic review, the officials called the foul on the Chargers but gave them the ball. What should have happened was that the interception should have been revoked and the ball given to the Cowboys. The ‘Boys lost the game and are likely going to appeal to the league.
If calls like these keep happening and it trickles into regular season, the NFL will have a huge problem on its hands. Stay tuned for more updates on the lockout and how it will affect football season as we know it.
The author is solely responsible for the content.