After Monday night's game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, and the blown call that decided the outcome, pressure is mounting on the NFL to end it's labor dispute with the NFL Referees Association. The replacement refs have been locked out by the league over a labor dispute since the summer, but this most recent debacle has been a rallying cry for football fans everywhere. Now, only the most die-hard Seahawks faithful don't feel somewhat slighted by the NFL's decision to bring in the scabs. Anyone will tell you that this group of lower level collegiate officials and referees from other leagues has been embarrassing the league week in and week out.
The worst part is we're not even getting the best officials from those other leagues, let alone competent ones. Lingerie Football League Commissioner, Mitchell Mortaza, released this statement after Monday Night's game:
“Because of the LFL’s perception it is that much more critical for us to hire officiating crews that are competent, not only for the credibility of our game but to keep our athletes safer. Due to several on-field incompetent officiating we chose to part ways with with a couple crews which apparently are now officiating in the NFL. We have a lot of respect for our officials but we felt the officiating was not in line with our expectations.”
So basically, the guys who weren't good enough to officiate contests between the L.A. Temptation and the Chicago Bliss are now in charge of NFL games. Yes, the same NFL that generates billions upon billions of dollars in revenue every year and is a centerpiece of American culture.
What's at odds in the labor dispute are two issues: one financial, and one ideological. On the financial side, the NFLRA wants the league to keep it's current pension plan, while the owner's association wants to transition them to a 401k. Last year the NFL paid $5.3 into the referees pension fund, but this year have pledged $2 million. The $3.3 million difference is barely even petty cash in the grand scheme of professional football, but the league doesn't want to seem weak in negotiating issues like this one. We're not too far removed from a lockout dispute with the players union that threatened to torpedo the 2011 season, and clearly the NFL anticipates more disagreements in the future.
Ideologically, the issue is actually very similar to the Chicago Teacher's Union situation. The NFL wants to hire more refs and create a reserve of trained officials who could come in and give the regulars a break. Referees who were underperforming could be temporarily “benched,” in favor of the reserves, ensuring the best officiating possible every week. This seems like a great system, but refs are paid per game, so the idea of missing time because of some bad calls is not appealing to the members of the NFLRA. Like the Chicago teachers, NFL refs are unwilling to have their compensation hinge on performance reviews. They're not lazy or greedy; they simply don't have confidence that any objective rating system would be an accurate reflection of their abilities.
The only way the dispute will be resolved is if players and fans can put enough pressure on the NFL owners and Commissioner Roger Goodell. With the way this season has been going, the regular refs have absolutely no reason to back down. If the replacements had been halfway competent, maybe competent enough to ref in the LFL at least, then Ed Hochuli and the rest of the regulars would be in trouble. But thanks to last night's gaffe, which was only the most glaring example in an overabundance of poor officiating, the onus of ending the lockout has been placed squarely on the league. Fans everywhere are saying give them their $3.3 million, and let's get back to football.