For anyone who watched the Packers/Seahawks game last night, it’s become very clear that enough is enough with these replacement refs. We’ve been watching botched calls all season, but now the outcome of a game has been directly affected by poor calls. It’s time to do something about it, right?
For anyone who isn’t a football fan, here’s what happened: the Packers were up 12-7. The Seahawks were down to the last play of the game. The quarterback, Russell Wilson, passed to wide receiver Golden Tate in the end zone. The pass soared into a mob of players, where it was apparently caught by Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings. Tate also made a play for the ball (after a blatant case of pass interference against Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields that would have ended the game wasn’t called), and the two wound up with simultaneous possession. Two refs came rushing in, one called a touchback (meaning Jennings intercepted the ball in the end zone), and the other called a touchdown. The ref who signaled touchdown gave his signal a split second before the ref who signaled touchback, so the ruling on the field was a touchdown. Now here’s the problem: in the case of simultaneous possession, the offense gets the ball, so it would be a touchdown. BUT simultaneous possession only comes into play when both players obtain possession at the same time. In this case it was pretty clear that Jennings made possession first and then Tate got his hands on the ball afterward, so it would be an interception. The play was reviewed, and the officials ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence in the replays to overturn the touchdown call, so the touchdown stands. More importantly, the incredibly uncontroversial question of whether or not Tate committed PI isn’t reviewable by instant replay. The question of who had possession is at least arguable, the real refs might have gotten it wrong too. But it is clear that Tate committed PI, and the real refs would have undoubtedly called it, giving Green Bay the win.
Everyone who cares even the slightest bit about football agrees that this is the last straw. The lockout has got to end. There was hope that after last night’s atrocity, the league would realize that they need to come to an agreement and get the real refs back on the field next weekend, but it’s not looking like that’s going to happen. But what exactly are the refs demanding that the league is so stubbornly opposing?
The refs’ demands
- Higher salaries – With all the talk about refs having to work a second job just to get by, I assumed they were making practically nothing. I did some research and found a lot of different numbers cited around the web for what the average salary is for an NFL ref, ranging from as low as $25-70k all the way up to $150k, but the sites that offer the most details on how the salaries are paid agree that it’s around $150k. So what the hell is their problem? The problem is that everyone else is getting big money – the players, the owners and the coaches. The refs are just as vital to the game, so they feel like they should be compensated more.
- Keep their pensions – The NFL wants to replace the pension plan with a 401k plan, freezing current pensions. The refs would get whatever’s in their pensions now, but future benefits would disappear. The refs are fine with switching over to 401k plans for new refs, but they are demanding that current refs get to keep their pension plans.
The league’s demands
- Replace pensions with 401k – The league wants to replace pensions with 401ks to reduce their costs. They’re following the rest of the country here; most companies no longer offer pension plans. The problem is that most companies have had to cut costs to stay successful; the NFL is making more money than ever, they don’t have to cut costs.
- Accountability – The league wants to be able to bench refs who make poor calls, much like a player would be benched if he wasn’t performing well. The refs oppose this because they question who should have the authority to decide when to bench a ref. This also ties into their salary demands. Refs’ salaries come from a pool that is distributed out based primarily on seniority. In order to be able to bench under-performing refs, the NFL wants to hire 21 new refs, but has not indicated that they will increase the salary pool by a proportionate amount, so the refs are worried their salaries will go down.
So who’s right? Well it’s really hard to say. On the one hand, the refs are already making a TON of money to work part time jobs. Sure, those jobs are incredibly stressful, but most people would agree that nobody making $150k/year for a part time job in which retirement benefits (whether it be a pension or a 401k) are included should be complaining about their compensation. Until you look at how much money everyone else involved in pro football is making. The minimum salary a rookie player can make is $390k/year. The lowest paid NFL coach makes $1.25 million/year. The league netted about $9 billion last year, and profits are just going up. The difference in what the refs want to receive and what the league wants to pay is about $5 million. Yes, they are fighting over half a percent of the league’s profits.
Both sides of this argument are being incredibly greedy, but I believe the main thing to remember is that this isn’t a strike, it’s a lockout. The refs aren’t striking because they want better benefits. The refs are being locked out by the league because the league offered them a new plan that reduces their benefits, and the refs, understandably, won’t agree to it. In my opinion, that places the blame squarely on the NFL. For a growing organization that is currently netting $9 billion/year to reduce the benefits of a small group of its employees by $5 million/year is just evil. Sure, nobody should complain about getting a salary of $150k/year plus retirement benefits, but when those benefits are being slashed for no perceivable reason other than greed on the part of the owners, I have to side with the refs. The NFL has to bring the refs back. The integrity of the game depends on it.