The NFL Refs Are Back
This should have been a lot easier.
The NFL and it referees union hammered out an eight-year agreement late Wednesday night after two days of nearly round-the-clock negotiating. The veterans are expected back on the field immediately, with a veteran crew scheduled to work Thursday night’s Browns-Ravens game before the rest head out to work the week’s remaining games Sunday and Monday night.
Never before have officials been so celebrated. Their pending return was a source of jubilation among players, based on late night television interviews and twitter feeds.
The unfortunate part is that the agreement is one that could have been reached without a full three-month lockout and three regular season weeks of replacements. The two big sticking points – the refs pensions and the league’s desire to add a taxi squad of additional officials that could ostensibly be called in to replace under performing regulars – were settled without either side fully blinking. In the end, compromise was the order of the day.
The union agreed to a taxi squad it didn’t want, but only after the NFL agreed the extra refs would be considered development officials who wouldn’t work games right away, and whose presence wouldn’t affect the refs’ salaries. The taxi squad’s official purpose will be filling in for regulars who need to take leave and, probably, to move into the officiating ranks as veterans retire.
As for the pension issue – also a compromise. The league wanted a switch to a less costly 401 (k), the union objected. Eventually both sides gave ground, with the referees agreeing to roll over their pensions into 401 (k)’s after the fourth year of the deal. So the owners got what they wanted, but the union got them to wait until the second half of the agreement to implement it.
Strikes and lockouts in sports – whether its players or officials – don’t normally go this far unless one side or the other is attempting to radically change the business model the two sides are working from (think baseball owners going for a salary cap in the 1990s).
That was never the case here – the whole fight was about little more than incremental amounts of money relative to the NFL’s $9 billion business. The compromises they came up with in the end were pretty simple – you’d think they could have been ironed out months ago. Apparently it took a controversial Monday night touchdown and ensuing ridicule on front pages and David Letterman‘s top ten list to spur more urgent talks.
Now, how long before a blown call by a real ref in a big game has everyone booing them again?