The labor dispute between the NFL and its game officials could linger into the regular season. Which means that the league would be using replacement officials.
According to Jim Corbett of USA Today, that’s exactly what will happen.
Per Corbett, a person with knowledge of the negotiations expects the fight to escalate over the summer, and that the “first couple of weeks” of the regular season will be officiated by “scabs.”
“I will be very surprised if there are not games played with scabs or replacement officials,” the source said Tuesday.
Though it’s bad form to speculate on a reporter’s sources (as if that’s ever stopped me before), the source’s use of the term “scabs” suggests that the information comes from someone tied to the NFL Referees Association. Though the use of both “scabs” and “replacement officials” makes the remark come off as balanced, it’s unlikely that any league-side sources would use the inherently pejorative term. (Unless, of course, it was a brilliant effort to cover the source’s tracks.)
If the quote came from the NFLRA, it’s unfortunate that the officials are preparing to forgo multiple game checks before working out a deal. If the hardship of lost pay (then again, most of the officials have other jobs) will get them to blink after a few weeks, why not blink before the game potentially suffers by the use of substandard officials? (In turn, if the NFL will blink after a couple of weeks of using second-rate-or-worse officials, why not blink before the game and the men who play it are compromised?)
Using the best officials takes on greater importance than the last time replacements/scabs were hired, because officials are now expected to help spot players who may have suffered concussions. But the NFL has yet to share any of the details with the players regarding the plan to find other officials.
“The NFL doesn’t let us know anything, unfortunately,” NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth told PFT Live on Tuesday. “Any information that we get from them, we have to pry it out of them.”
Foxworth deferred comment on whether the players would be reluctant to play with replacement/scab officials, stating only that, for now, “there’s a red flag and there’s lots of concerns.”
There should be. Whatever the NFL plans to do, it’s critical that the two sides work together. While the NFLPA naturally may be inclined to resist the league’s proposals in deference to a fellow union, both sides need to find a way to work together, putting the greater good of the game about their own interests.
That said, the greater good of the game favors having the best officials available. Locking out the officials who have made it to the top of their profession and replacing them necessarily means that the league won’t have the benefit of the very best.