Under Review

By Jan Hubbard

If you’re an NFL fan, you might have heard that those who officiate and referee games have been in a contract dispute with the league. You know this because each week, a galaxy of experts – some highly compensated; the rest simply high volume – tell us replacement officials are not as good as regular officials and their inconsistent calls are ruining the fine game of professional football.


First of all, we should address the notion that replacement refs are inferior.


Yes, it is true. They are.


This, however, is not a revelation on par with, say, water is wet.


Without any shrieking from voices on the TV or writers in print, the average fan is well aware that you can’t take 121 of the top football officials in the world and replace them not with the next tier – because the next tier of top NCAA officials have commitments and are not available –but with lower level college division and high school referees and have the same level of competence.


But let’s get past the rhetoric and finger-pointing between the league and the officials union and make several points about replacements.


1. They are not at fault for this situation.


2. The referee is paid $3,500 for each game and the other six officials are paid $3,000. Why would they turn the money down?


3. There is a notion that because of their inexperience, the officials are not trying hard enough. That is idiotic. Without the benefit of being able to interview them, I’d still wager that each of the replacement officials is a proud man who is trying to get it right. They, no doubt, do not want to embarrass themselves.


Some of the criticism is obviously accurate. Players have found areas of inexperience and exploited those areas.


But let’s get something clear. The assumption that the regular officials are perfect is silly. This is a group that once produced a top referee who could not discern the difference between “heads” and “tails” during a coin flip of a Pittsburgh-Detroit game that was going into overtime. Because he made the wrong call, the Lions got the ball instead of the Steelers, took the kickoff, went down the field, kicked a field goal and won the game.


The league and the union have had their share of criticism for the stalemate. In the last year, the NFL has signed new TV agreements that average $3.1 billion per year. That is a large increase from the $1.9 billion they received under the last contract.


Before the 2011 season, the players signed a new 10-year deal with the league and they obviously got more money. So now it’s the officials turn, and they want their share, too.


While that makes sense, the fact is that NFL officials are all part-time workers. Depending on their seniority, they received anywhere from $78,000 as a starting official to $149,000 for a veteran.


That’s not a bad part-time job.


One of the problem areas in negotiations is pensions. The NFL wants to transition to a 401K for officials while union members want to keep their current pension program.


Andrew Brandt, who is a lawyer and also former NFL general manager and player agent, is the guru of labor issues for ESPN and makes the best point, which is “why anyone working a once-a-week job for less than half the year gets a pension at all.”


Why would officials expect it? And why did the NFL agree to it in the first place?


In the world of labor disputes, this is a dumb one. Both sides are right. And both sides are wrong.


But I do wish they’d settle for one reason, and one the two sides might not expect.


It is quite a burden to continue to listen to “experts” badgering us with the obvious.