The one thing we can saying with certainty about the NFL and the locked-out officials is that they’re not saying anything to each other. Until they do, they won’t be able to bridge the gap on financial and other issues.
So if they were to sit down and try, what would the gap be?
The driving factor is, as always, money. The league contends that it has offered annual raises between five and 11 percent, pointing out that the average pay for NFL officials last season was $149,000. (Not bad for a hobby.) Under the NFL’s most recent (and perhaps final) proposal, the average official would earn $189,000 by 2018.
First-year officials earned, on average, $78,000 in 2011. Under the NFL’s most recent (and perhaps final) proposal, the average first-year official from 2011 would be making $165,000 by 2018.
The officials, obviously, want more. (Otherwise, they’d have a deal.) The characterization of the gap depends on the perspective of the party characterizing it. The NFLRA says it amounts to $100,000 per team per year. Factoring in the preseason, that’s $5,000 per team per game. The league sees the difference more broadly, as a canyon that amounts t $22.7 million over seven years. (Of course, over those same seven years the league will likely have generated more than $70 billion in total revenues.)
With 119 total officials, it all works out to an average divide of $27,250 per official per year.
Another major dispute flows from retirement benefits. Like many employers, the NFL wants to convert its defined benefit plan to a 401(k) defined contribution plan, shifting the risks of the market to the individual employees. Given that, for most if not all officials, working games is a well-paying hobby, being treated in their hobbies like the vast majority of American workers shouldn’t be a big deal.
The NFL also wants to add 21 more officials (three total crews), in order to provide the league with a “bench” that could be used during the season to replace officials who are struggling. While the league apparently would be paying all officials out of the same pot, if the average increases cited by the league take into account the expanded roster of officials, it should be a non-issue. (It’s likely an issue because the locked-out officials don’t want to have in-season accountability.)
The issue of full-time officials could be controversial not for what it means now but for what it could mean in the future. If the NFL plans to eventually convert their officials to full-time employees (as the NFL should), the total package of compensation likely will be less than the total money earned by many officials in their “real” jobs and at their hobbies. The locked-out officials likely prefer to not go down that path at all.
Many would prefer that the league not go down the path of replacement officials, but if the locked-out officials aren’t willing to accept what some would regard as an objectively fair offer, what should the NFL do? Not play the games? Or cave in to the demands simply because the NFL can “afford” to pay the locked-out officials what they want?
While it’s reasonable for the officials to look at the success of the game and say “we want more,” the officials need to realize that no one goes to the games to see them, and that they are indeed replaceable.
The problem is that the process of replacing all of them at once with only a few months to prepare puts the league in a delicate spot. And the locked-out officials know it.
We’re trying hard not to pick sides on this one. We just want the regular officials to get back on the job, which will happen sooner rather than later only if the two sides start talking.
While it’s easy to insist that the NFL bridge the gap because the NFL has the money to do it, the locked-out officials aren’t exactly hurting, either. And so, if the replacement officials end up screwing things up, we’ll ultimately blame not only the entity that locked out the regular officials but also the regular officials who forced the lockout by wanting more of a raise than most Americans are currently getting in their primary (and only) jobs.