The NFL ramped up its public pressure on the locked-out officials this week, with a string of leaks and statements aimed at: (1) making the locked-out officials realize that the NFL is ready to go forward into the regular season without them; and (2) focusing the controversy on issues other than reported financial gap of $100,000 per team.
On Thursday morning, the NFL Referees Association responded with a four-point response to the league, followed by a fairly inflammatory “summary,” complete with at least one exclamation point.
“The difference in aggregate compensation requested by the NFLRA and offered by the NFL are insignificant compared to NFL revenues,” says the statement from the NFLRA. “In the 2012 season the difference is about $2.2 million and over the five (5) year term proposed by the NFLRA about $16.5 million in total. That breaks down to $500,000 per team over five (5) years or $100,000 per team per year.
“This means the compensation issue could be resolved for $6,000 per game for each team! Why would the NFL jeopardize the health and safety of it players and the integrity of the game for such a modest amount?”
So there it is. The current gap, according to the NFLRA, works out to $6,000 per game per team. We’re not saying that the NFL should cave on that point. We are saying that the two sides are close enough to not justify playing Russian roulette with the integrity of the game by entrusting it to a collection of replacements that includes high-school officials and referees from the Lingerie Football League.
As to the noneconomic issues, the NFLRA confirms that the two items leaked by the league to ESPN on Monday are indeed impediments to a resolution. The league wants to add three more crews; the NFLRA claims that those crews would be paid from the pool of money that currently pays all officials. More importantly, the NFLRA contends that the NFL first raised the “three extra crews” issue on July 19, which if accurate would tend to suggest that the NFL shrewdly has tried to weave issues into the dispute other than the money because if it’s only about the money the NFL is more likely to be pressured to work this thing out.
The NFLRA also says that the question of full-time officials has never has been a “serious issue” in the negotiations. And the NFLRA says that it has no opposition to full-time officials, as long as they are “fairly compensated.”
Of course, it’s impossible to work out fair compensation for full-time officials or any of the other questions if the two sides aren’t engaged in serious talks. For now, they aren’t. Instead, the league seems to be inclined to go full speed ahead with replacement officials, under the assumption that the locked-out officials will cry “uncle” after two missed regular-season games.
Along those lines, NFL executive V.P. of operations Ray Anderson told Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com on Wednesday that the league expects to use replacements into the regular season.
“Are they going to be Tom Brady? No,” Anderson said of the replacements. “But they can be a Matt Hasselbeck.”
They also could be a JaMarcus Russell.
That continues to be the problem. Instead of using the folks who have been carefully vetted and prepared and utilized to officiate NFL games over a long period of time, the league plans to flip the switch as to a bunch of mid-level officials and hope that nothing blows up.
The NFL isn’t a laboratory experiment. It’s the most popular and successful sports league in America. When it comes to officiating, the game deserves better than hope. It demands certainty.
That’s why both sides need to work together to fix this. And that’s why the league needs to remember before driving too hard of a bargain what happened when it drove too hard of a bargain with the publisher of the ill-fated NFL Magazine.
Sometimes you can drive a bargain so hard that it drives the product into the ground. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen again.