Thursday, September 27, 2012


With the continuing (aye, escalating) erosion of the credibility of the NFL (and other professional sports), We keep telling ourselves that this is just a game, entertainment and nothing more.  It fills space on our Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays and gives us something to talk about around the coffee machine. No one will disagree that it all comes down to the almighty Dollar - and that’s what the current NFL Officials strike and lockout is all about - Money.  Love of the game for the game and the pioneering spirit of the original players and teams are all gone, n’er to return again.  We’ve talked with some fans who’ve been watching lately just to see what the latest replacement official screw-up would be.
We are amused that with the NFL being a $9 Billion industry and the worth of some teams estimated in the billions of dollars (i.e. Dallas Cowboys - $2.1B), they have been haggling over a few million dollars with the NFL Referee’s Association (NFLRA).  We think the owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell were just plain unrealistic in their attempts to improve their bottom line, while compromising the game and their brand in the process.  This may be more about control than anything else. With the recent fiascos on the field, that objective is probably all but gone…

The differences between the NFL and the NFLRA appeared negotiable and workable with the most significant point of contention being the officials’ pension options.  Seems that the league wants them all moved from what is a defined benefit retirement plan (pension) to a defined contribution plan (401k).  What’s the rub?  Well, the league contributes to the pension while the officials fork over their hard-earned dollars (before taxes) for the 401(k).  It is a major reduction in benefits.

Pensions are more expensive to maintain and in recent years due to these higher costs many employers have eliminated them.  The NFLRA offered a compromise that would essentially allow the 401(k) for all new officials though existing officials would be grandfathered under the old pension set up.  The league hasn’t been buying it and you have to wonder where they are coming from.  They already had a major concession from the NFLRA and up until today held themselves, the officials and the fans hostage over what is a relatively miniscule sum.  No matter what happens the rest of the 2012 season, the owners rolled the dice, had to give up more than they wanted and lost on this one – OK everybody has lost including those teams that won, but lost.  We smell an asterisk by 2012…

And if you say, Gees the officials are getting X dollars for just one day’s work, well you have to factor in the headaches, hassles and escalating costs of travel in this day and age and then add another almost two days to their schedule, then you have to wonder whether that commitment, loyalty coupled with years and years of training is really worth it. The officials need to be fairly treated within the context of the big picture of The Game.  If you keep diminishing their pay, work conditions, limiting their earnings potential and all in a mostly hostile circus environment, then you have the recipe for a continuing disaster – a Titanic every year.  We will have Neanderthals that will look to the owner’s box before every call on the field. It looks like we have now avoided that scenario.  

The officials in any sport are human and that’s why an occasional failed judgment or blown call is factored in as “part of the game.”   The owners, however, didn’t figure that a blown call on one critical play would determine the unfair and unjust outcome of the recent Monday Night Football game featuring the Green Bay Packers at the Seattle Seahawks.  Then even with instant replay and longer booth reviews (and absolutely no common sense) they still couldn’t get it right. Everybody that saw that game saw the pass interference by Seattle and the interception by the Green Bay Packers – OK everybody except the officials. Then even when the NFL stated that the final play of the Green Bay-Seattle game was absolutely called wrong and the Seattle touchdown should not have been allowed, they still let the result stand.  So now even when the NFL admits they are wrong, they are – wrong when they fail to right that wrong.   Were I Paul Allen, Co-Founder of Microsoft, and now owner of the Seattle Seahawks, I would forfeit the game to the Packers on principle alone.  Seattle did not earn the victory. Bookmakers and some casinos have even acknowledged the mistake with many returning monies to those who bet on the Packers and lost.

We are not big fans of the NFLRA as some of the officiating in recent years by the “regular” officials has been outrageous at times.  While we think some of the more obvious horrific calls made by the replacement officials to include the absolutely embarrassing one at the end of the Packers-Seahawks game would probably not been made by the regular crews, the NFL owners are now smart enough to know they have to improve the officiating or permanently ruin the game and their brand.  They have already damaged the game to the extent of furious protests by NFL players and Fans alike including Hall of Fame quarterback & Fox TV’s Troy Aikman and his now famous tweet, "These games are a joke."   Jon Gruden, Monday Night Football sports analyst for ESPN and former NFL coach who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII in only his first year as head coach, opined after the so-called “victory” by Seattle, "tragic" and "comical." Kinda tells the tale…

We had been pondering the incredible inefficiencies and added time that the replacement officials required to deliberate and then make their decisions.  Along with the newly mandated booth review of every scoring play, it appeared to us that indecision among the replacement officials was negatively affecting the natural flow and rhythm of the games.  Players never had to slow down the game by feigning injury so long as they had replacement refs on the field. No cheap shot there

Know that we don’t blame the replacement officials even if some were rejects from the “Lingerie League.”  With abbreviated training coupled with a lack of maturity and judgment that has to be polished and honed over many years of deliberations and officiating at the professional level, they were placed in a situation where they couldn’t possibly succeed.  That was reason enough to embrace the return of regular NFLRA officials realizing that even with all their faults, they are the best we have and their return will restore some degree of normalcy and integrity to the NFL. How would you like to have been a NFL replacement official going into Green Bay’s Lambeau Field this Sunday?  It would not have been pretty…

Monday night’s catastrophe in Seattle should be condemned by all including Seahawks Fans.  Silver Lining: It was the last straw pushing the NFLRA and the owners to compromise and agreement.  Apparently both sides made concessions on issues to include the NFLRA pension plan, wages and the establishment of an official developmental program.  The absolute outrage of Fans, the NFL Players Union and even some distraught owners pushed them together. 

Spin: Let it be known that what Goodell characterized as Fan “passion” over the incident was pure rage.  We even heard a rumor that the Green Bay Packers were considering taking a knee on every play of their next game with New Orleans.  They even deliberated going on strike.  The NFLRA votes on the agreement this coming Friday and Saturday right here in Dallas though Roger Goodell has lifted the lockout.  We will see regular officials back on the field for the Cleveland-Baltimore game Thursday night.  Yes, we have seen the last of the replacement officials.  

We need note that Federal Mediators also had a hand in this settlement – your tax dollars at work.  Well, if performance by replacements can be the catalyst to prompt compromise and collaboration, then I have a plan: Send them on to Washington, DC.  Maybe we can at least thank them for their contribution in ending the strike? OK, bad idea…


Ned Buxton

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