Bobby Gallahue ’14
Labor disputes are as American as McDonalds and the 4th of July, and major American sports are far from immune. The NHL, NBA and NFL have all had contentious labor battles between players and owners that have led cancelled and shortened seasons. It is simple; you need two players to play the game and without them the season does not occur. This is what makes the NFL’s lockout of the referees so interesting, that they do not hold the same power as the players. The only time they are noticed is when they make a mistake. So in theory they should be easy to replace, right? Three weeks into the NFL season it was fully realized that NFL replacement referees were not the answer.
To referee the best players in the world, you need the best referees. When players come from college to the NFL, a common quote is “the game is just so much faster, everything happens quicker.” When a referee comes from high school to the NFL and attempts to make a split second pass interference call, he is bound to get it wrong. This occurred far too many times in the three weeks the replacement refs were employed. Phantom pass interferences, missed holding calls, and poor ball spots became the norm. This all culminated Monday night in a close game between the Seahawks and Packers. A Packers defensive back intercepted a last second Hail Mary throw while a Seahawks receiver attempted to grab the ball desperately. In the picture that will define the reign of the replacement refs, one official ruled a TD, while the other declared an interception. After a group huddle it was ruled a touchdown and the Packers lost the game. A firestorm of criticism erupted and the bargaining position of the NFL Referees Association had never been higher. Both sides sat down on Tuesday to attempt to agree over a new deal. What exactly were they arguing over though?
Sports Center is on the TV an average of six hours a day in our suite, yet when I started writing this article I realized I had no idea what exactly the NFLRA and the NFL were arguing over. After hours upon hours of research I was safely able to conclude that the dispute was over money, shocker. The refs wanted raises to keep themselves on par with other sports and to keep their pension plans, which the league wanted to cut. Another point of contention was whether the referees would remain as part time (which they wanted to do) or become full time NFL employees. Many refs work other jobs in addition to their refereeing duties, for example, Ed Hochuli is a successful trial lawyer. When the deal was finalized on Wednesday, the referees got their raises and their pension plans. While no current referees were converted to full-time employees, the league reserves the right to hire new refs as full-time employees. So long term, the NFL will slowly phase out the part- time ref, as they should. The referees and umpires, to which the NFLRA wanted the same pay to, are all full-time employees.
The lockout showed that for the NFL to produce a great product on Sundays, every component must be at an NFL level. If the NFL started using a high school camera crew to film their games, it would be noticed and the commissioner would experience backlash. Hopefully the NFL has realized that referees, announcers and especially players integral to their success and starts treating them as such.