Replacement Referees, Pensions, and Football Integrity
So you’ve heard about the replacement referees that the NFL has used this season, right? We’re a football family so it’s big news to us, and since it’s been in the newspaper and on the news a bit, I imagine you’ve heard about it too. The deal is that the NFL and the NFLRA (National Football League Referee Association) are having contract disputes, just like when the players were locked out last year, and just like in baseball that year where we didn’t have a World Series because they couldn’t agree. Does anyone even remember baseball anymore? After that year, a ton of fans were lost, and it looks like football may be heading that way too.
The source of the dispute
Just what is it that the NFL commissioner and owners have against the real refs that is causing all this trouble?
- The referees want their pay to be higher. In 2011, the average pay was $149k per year. Other sports typically pay their officials between $300-400k yer year. Although the football season is 6 months long, the refs do more work during the year and want to be fairly paid. How much is fair? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?
- Yesterday, the NFL reported that the most pressing issue is that they want to dissolve the pension plan and move all the referees over to a 401k. The NFLRA said they would be fine with new officials starting off on the 401k plan, but would like current officials to be grandfathered in to the new plan. The NFL considers that if the two could meet over this issue, then the lockout would likely be over.
- The referees are also concerned about job security. The NFL, to improve officiating (and seriously, after these few games this season, anything would be better than the replacement refs!) wants to add more refs and change the way the jobs are assigned. Current refs are concerned this will push them out of their jobs.
Apparently those three issues are the big problems. And the best part? There are only 120 NFL referees. Goodell and the owners can’t find a way to make a compromise with 120 refs. Unfortunately, the backup refs that are currently replacing the real officials are causing huge issues – it seems they’re more worried about making the big calls than the ones that actually cause a difference, like the missed pass interference call that would’ve made a difference in the end of the Green Bay and Seattle game. Even President Obama is calling for the real refs to come back. Not only is the dispute causing problems for the players and the coaches, it’s also a problem for the fans. Not only is the integrity of the game up in the air, we also have to consider what a lockout like this can be teaching our children.
What the NFL Dispute with Referees is Teaching Our Children
I know that not every family watches SportsCenter as a family event, but ours does and I’m sure other families are at least somewhat knowledgeable about what goes on in the sports industry too. We have two boys, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can about sports now so that I’ll know what they’re talking about in 10 years. So what does it teach our kids when the NFL and the refs are in a labor dispute and the real refs can’t call the games, which leads to missed calls, refs attempting to officiate the games of their favorite teams, etc?
I think one of the most difficult lessons that we’re learning now and that this dispute is teaching our children is that if you’re not considered for the professional league, then you don’t have to be able to do the best job. All of the replacement refs are officials that would typically be calling high school or D3 or lower college games, and they’re making some pretty terrible calls. So I suppose our boys can expect that if they play football, the refs will most definitely make awful calls throughout their football career, unless and until they make it to the professionals, in which case the refs will likely be somewhat better. The best the boys could hope for is to go to a D1 or D2 school so they could have better refs during college.
We’re also teaching our children that it’s ok to not agree and make compromises and to just take your ball and go home if you can’t agree with the people you’re working with. As a mom, this is a topic that I struggle with because I always teach my boys to share. Yes, they can take turns, but in the end they’re both going to hurt a little to make a compromise. If the NFL is convinced that the issue that is causing the most problem is the 401k vs Pension issue, then why could they not agree to go ahead and grandfather in the current refs while all new refs will have the 401k plan? Maybe I don’t understand retirement well enough, but when the commissioner is making $10million per year, I would assume that they could afford to throw the refs a bone on the retirement issue since that’s what the NFL is saying is the holding point.
The third point that bothers me from this whole issue is what happens to the players and coaches if they make any reference to the replacement refs not being up to snuff – they’re fined by the NFL. I often don’t agree with the disciplinary actions that the commissioner decides on, but this on is really aggravating. I always teach my boys that they need to respect their elders, but not that they can’t question authority. I don’t want my boys blindly following someone because they’ll be punished otherwise. It’s clear that the referees are not making the best calls, but when the players and coaches have mentioned it, they’ve been treated to fines. So when asked by the press, they can either lie, say no comment, or change the subject. I’d rather just not have the players and coaches be bullied into providing false answers.
What’s the solution?
For the sake of the fans, please, END the dispute! In my opinion, the NFL has room to bend. Nothing that the NFLRA is requesting seems all that bad, although I don’t think I’d press for the income, but that’s just me – our family makes it by on much less. Can we appreciate football with the replacement refs? No. Is the season going to be forever marked by this debacle? Yes. Let me stand by the game that we love, we just want to watch a decent, fair game that doesn’t bully or take advantage of those with less room to give. So please, Goodell, make a deal.
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