While it doesn’t generate the kind of heat the lockout of players did last summer, the NFL’s current stalemate in negotiations with its officials is every bit as ugly.
National Football League Referees Association (NFLRA) officials held a conference call with the media Wednesday, and said that the league has given “no indication,” they’re interested in returning to the bargaining table.
“The lockout seems to be their negotiating strategy with everybody,” Michael C. Arnold, the NFLRA’s legal counsel and lead negotiator said.
Arnold said that since talks broke off June 3, they’ve heard nothing from the league. In the meantime, the NFL is preparing to pick crews of replacement officials from retired officials and those who have called lower levels, as those who do Division I football aren’t under consideration. The NFL has another of what the NFLRA refers to as “scab clinics,” this weekend in Dallas, though some retired officials the league uses as trainers (such as Red Cashion and Jerry Markbreit) have refused to participate.
“The folks who are going to be on the field are not of NFL quality that coaches, fans and players are used to seeing,” said NFLRA President Scott Green.
While many fans and players treat this lockout with little more than a shrug, officials say their absence will be significant as the league tries to stress player safety.
Longtime official Ed Hochuli said players are aware of his presence when he’s on the field, and believes they’ll push the envelope on rules infractions if they know replacement officials are on the field.
Hochuli said NFLRA members continue to train as if there would be a regular season, going through video presentations and conference calls on rules changes.
“When the lockout ends, we’ll be ready to take the field the next day,” Hochuli said. “But let’s not kid ourselves, missing the preseason hurts.”
Hochuli said without preseason games, offficials would be as “rusty” as players would be without training camp, and said if the lockout isn’t resolved soon, missed preseason games would mean: “We will make those mistakes in the regular season.”
At issue, as you might imagine, is the economic proposals in play.
NFLRA officials said they’ve asked for small increases over what was prescribed in their previous CBA. One primary point of contention is pension benefits, which they contend the league wants to “freeze, then end,” Arnold said.
Arnold described the gulf between the two sides as small, saying over the course of a five-year agreement, it’s as little as $100,000 per team, per year. That’s another way of saying $16 million.