In 2001, the NFL responded to a labor battle with game officials by locking them out and hiring replacements.
In 2012, it could be happening all over again.
Alex Marvez of FOXSports.com reports that the NFL has commenced plans for hiring replacement officials, as negotiations with game officials reach an impasse.
“Talks are ongoing, and should the two sides reach an agreement in the near future, there will be no need to hire additional officials,” NFL director of recruiting officials Ron Bayne writes in a letter obtained by Marvez. “This is a contingency plan to make sure the NFL season will continue on schedule as planned.”
As Marvez explains, replacement officials were used 11 years ago for the final exhibition games and the first week of regular-season games. A new CBA was reached with game officials during the one-week NFL hiatus resulting from the 9/11 attacks.
Today, however, the game has changed. With the NFL pushing for player safety — and relying on game officials to be more involved in spotting players who may have suffered concussions — the use of second-tier officials could undermine the league’s safety objectives.
The negotiations are reaching critical mass not long after Commissioner Roger Goodell floated the idea of experimenting with full-time officials. Which means that the NFL realizes that the quality of the officiating can be improved. Which means that it’s not acceptable to have anything other than the best officials.
In hindsight, it’s possible that Goodell mused about full-time officials as part of the effort to leverage game officials into accepting the league’s terms, given that most if not all of them prefer the ability to have a “real” job in addition to working for the NFL on weekends during football season.