I don’t normally do posts about sports.  As these things go, I’m a casual sports watcher.  Very casual.

To be honest, I love actually going to sporting events like football games and baseball games, but professional teams and venues are cost prohibitive anymore.  By the time you get the tickets, park, maybe buy a snack or a drink, you can be looking at upwards of a hundred dollars or more.  (Ticketmaster lists the cheapest Broncos tickets for an upcoming game as $60 each (rounding up and that includes a Ticketmaster ‘fee’).  So two tickets would be $120.  That doesn’t include parking or snacks/food.)

Anyway.  This post isn’t about that.  It’s about this: The NFL is fighting with referees over money.  Pensions/retirement, to be exact.  Up to this point, NFL refs have had pensions; a certain amount of money set aside for when they retire.  Pensions used to be fairly common.  You still see them in public service jobs, but not so much anymore on the private side where 401K’s and other investment programs have become more popular with employers.  The NFL wants to replace referee pensions with a 401K system.  The refs are vehemently opposed to this.  Negotiations are ongoing and as part of it, the NFL has decided to force the issue and has locked the referees out of the games, replacing them with referees with little or no experience with professional football (they are from middle schools, high schools and the lingerie league because college-level refs sided with the NFL refs & refused offers to replace them).

The result has been lackluster and controversial officiating, to say the least.  (Refs who are die-hard team fans officiating games, penalty yardage marched off incorrectly, challenges that did not exist being awarded, one official ruling an interception while another, two feet away, ruling a touchdown.)

People who watch football tend to slam the refs.  It’s a given.  When a call goes against your team, you cuss out the ref and commiserate with your fellow fans. But now, the bad calls are outnumbering the good calls.  Everyone is frustrated.  Coaches are flipping out on the field, so are players.  Fans are wondering what the hell is going on after three weeks worth of utter crap officiating, and the NFL seems to be rethinking its strategy with the negotiations.  Probably.

An interesting side effect of all of this is that fans, coaches and players alike are finding a new found respect for the professional NFL refs.  Before the games were played this last weekend, the NFL sent out a mandate to all team owners, general managers, coaches and players, telling them to stop harassing the replacement referees.  In that mandate, they said that “everybody has a responsibility to respect the game”.

Okay.  My response to that is this: If you, NFL, respected the game, you wouldn’t have created this situation in the first place.

The NFL makes an insane amount of money every year. So do the refs.  The average salary for a game official was nearly $150,000 last year.  They are asking for an annual league contribution of $38,500 per official for the pension fund.  The NFL has so far said no, absolutely not.  If you look at the math, and I hate math so I’m trusting sports writers out there who have done it for me:

“Want to know my second-favorite statistic? When you crunch the numbers, if the NFL gave the locked-out referees everything they wanted, it would cost about $100,000 extra per team per season. That equals about four games’ pay for one of the team’s lowest-paid players. The owners are watching their sport burn because they won’t improve the officials’ compensation by about one-fourth the amount they would pay a backup guard? Think about that.”

Yeah, let’s think about that.  Every couple of years, we have something like this happen.  Baseball did it in ’94-’95 when the Players Union and Ownership went to war over salary caps and compensation.  The NBA did it in 2011 when players and teams fought over, again, salary caps and compensation.  Now today we have the NFL refs fighting it out with teams and the NFL over compensation.

In each instance, the fans get screwed.  Sorry, but it’s true.  Ticket prices go up.  Same with memorabilia (shirts, hats, cups, etc), all to pay for things the league(s) could afford to pay (and then some) as is.

To be honest, I have zero sympathy for the NFL owners.  They make ungodly amounts of money.  But the way they have chosen to deal the the refs is affecting the game, the season and the enjoyment of the fans.  You’d think that would have an impact and convince them that they need to try something different.

Will they?  Probably not.

1 Comment

  • Paul (@princejvstin) Posted September 26, 2012 11:24 am

    The lockout has frustrated me no end, and Monday night was the final straw. The absolute greed and avarice of the owners knows no bounds.

    It may take some years, but this could erode the NFL as an institution and as a brand. Look at NBA officiating–its a joke. How often was Jordan called for traveling?

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