By: Melissa Harder
Some would call me a pretty passionate person while watching sports. Others would call me insane. Well let’s face it – both descriptions are pretty accurate. But thinking about the amount of times I’ve yelled at my TV, and more specifically, at referees, I’m certain the level of abuse heaped on them might hit a whole new stratosphere this year. (I am, after all, the girl who yelled at a provincial girls championship basketball ref for being bought off by the other team … and I wonder why people don’t want to hang out at games with me anymore…)
But really, who among us hasn’t yelled “Come on ref!” and “Are you kidding me?” when a referee has made what we perceive as a particularly egregious call. Let’s face it. Not all of us are cut out to take on a job like that but nonetheless, we expect perfection. The best referees, after all, are the ones you never notice at all.
Since June 3, negotiations between the NFL and the National Football League Referees (NFLRA) have been stuck at a standstill. Veteran referees are protesting the league’s proposed changes for the 2012-2013 season.
Let’s take a look at each issue on the table:
The league wants to add three additional crews to support existing refs. The league argues that this will help reduce current stress on officials because they’ll have to work fewer games, travel a little less and will give veterans the opportunity to help train the new crop of officials and improve the overall quality of officiating in the NFL.
What the NFL doesn’t say however, is that this will affect veteran referees in other ways – for instance, likely they would see a cut in pay because of the addition of such a large amount of employees. This also impacts the players themselves because a bevy of rookie refs brings an inevitable amount of bad and missed calls, sometimes impacting player safety.
Currently, the majority of NFL referees are part time employees with full time jobs elsewhere. Ed Hochuli, my favourite ref because he wears the tightest striped zebra shirt imaginable, is a successful trial lawyer. Mike Carey owns a company that manufactures ski and snowboarding equipment. Bill Leavy used to be a police officer. The league wants to revise the program to include only full time officials.
“The NFLRA is not opposed to full time officials if they are fairly compensated,” the union has stated. “While the NFL has never made any compensation proposal, comparable positions in other professional sports at the 20-year level earn approximately $350,000 to $400,000 and are provided health insurance, a pension, time off with pay and numerous other benefits.” Veteran referees aren’t convinced that the league can match the benefits they receive in their other full time employment.
Shockingly, money is also an issue between the two groups. (I know, I can’t believe it either). Here it becomes a bit more convoluted. The league has publicly stated they are offering a 5 to 11% increase but officials say the proposal actually includes aggregate game fee compensation increases of 2.82% per year, which is different than what the league claims.
In fact, the league proposal doesn’t contain any salary schedule. The league says if the salary pool permits then the salary increase might be an option for select employees. Great idea, NFL. Tell a union that represents EVERYONE that you’ll only look at salary increases for select people. That should grease the wheels.
The final negotiation item is the existing pension plan. The union said the league plans to freeze and thereafter terminate it. The union offered to ‘grandfather’ the current defined benefit plan only for current officials.
Meanwhile, replacement referees will keep calling preseason games. How are they doing so far?
In week one, the worst call from a replacement official happened in Buffalo where well after a play the crew decided that a punt had been touched in the end zone – even though it was obviously downed at the four.
In week 2, the San Diego crew made an even bigger mistake. On a pass to a Cowboys receiver, a Chargers safety applied an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit. The ball bounced around and a Chargers linebacker came up with the interception before it hit the ground. After a lot (and by a lot, I mean you could have gone to your car, driven home to pick something up, come back, returned to your seat and not missed a second of the game) the officials gave the ball to San Diego and marked off the personal foul against the Chargers for the illegal hit. What was supposed to happen? Well any couch potato referee will tell you that the ball should have been given back to the Cowboys, the interception wiped out and the penalty marked off against the Chargers to the previous spot. See? How come I can do it but replacement officials can’t?
Look, NFL referees are very good at their jobs. The only possible competitors to them would be those referees who work in the major college conferences – also part timers – but those aren't being considered for these temporary replacement referee roles. Whether you think the referees now are doing a great job or missing every single call, a replacement squad made up of officials who have been deemed not good enough to work a Duke – Miami game will almost certainly provide a lower level of quality throughout any NFL game.
If calls like this keep happening, and they move replacement officials into the regular season, I better buy myself some throat lozenges because I can bet there will be far more yelling in my house than usual this year.
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By Melissa Harder
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