The NFL has done everything it can to try to convince fans that their replacement referees are doing a decent job, from turning a blind eye to bogus calls to threatening and fining coaches for intimidating officials.
But now that a disputed call in a prime time game — a call that just about everyone except the men in stripes and the Seahawks insist was incorrect — has directly decided a game, Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners must stop the madness and bring back the professionals. Right?
Well, it won’t happen this weekend, and despite the national uproar from coaches, players, analysts and fans alike, we could still be weeks away from a resolution. But if the locked out referees didn’t have the upper hand before Monday night, the pendulum has swung in their favor.
The NFL will officially address the touchdown call at the end of the Packers-Seahawks game later today, as NFL.com’s Steve Wyche first reported. But explaining the call will not fix the problem.
So where do things stand in the ongoing labor negotiations with the real, trained NFL refs?
The league and representatives of the locked-out referees met last week but failed to strike a deal. While the two sides remain divided on annual salaries, referee pensions remain “the major sticking point in the negotiations,” as the Post’s Mark Maske reported last week. Maske cited a source who said the referees’ pension proposal calls for an annual league contribution of $38,500 per official — a number the NFL has thus far refused to accept. The locked out officials are in favor of continuing the traditional pension plan already in place while the league wants to eliminate that plan and replace it with a 401(k) plan.
On Sunday, while penalty yardage was being marched off incorrectly and challenges that did not exist were being awarded, the two sides met again, and Goodell was actually present, according to ESPN. The NFL players’ union also took action Sunday, sending an open letter to team owners asking them to end the lockout and citing their concerns over what they believe has become an unsafe work environment.
Jeff Pash, the league’s general counsel and lead negotiator, sent a memo to teams over the weekend, saying “the NFL was prepared to make ‘reasonable’ compromises on economic issues in exchange for operational changes that the league is pushing for because it believed they would improve the quality of officiating,” Judy Batista of the New York Times reported Monday.
“We recognize that that the current officials are under unprecedented scrutiny, and we are committed to do all we can to help them continue to improve,” Pash wrote. “In the meantime, we will be available to resume negotiations with the union to reach a fair agreement as soon as possible.”
But could Monday night’s disaster be the tipping point? Will the NFL’s ratings really suffer as a result of the dreadful officiating? Or will more people keep tuning in to watch the weekly train wrecks?
As Steve Young put it on last week’s “Monday Night Football” broadcast, the NFL is “inelastic for demand.”
“There is nothing they can do to hurt the demand of the game,” Young said. “So the bottom line is they don’t care. Player safety doesn’t matter in this case. Bring Division III officials? Doesn’t matter. Because in the end you’re still going to watch the game.”