The good news in the wake of last night’s very bad news at the end of the Packers-Seahawks game is that the NFL and the locked-out officials spent a fourth straight day negotiating on Tuesday.
The bad news in the wake of last night’s very bad news at the end of the Packers-Seahawks game is that the NFL doesn’t seem to recognize that it has gambled with the use of replacement officials — and it has lost.
First, the NFL wants a bench of replacements (they’ll need a better word than that) to serve as in-season understudies for officials who aren’t performing at an acceptable level. King reports that the NFL won’t guarantee that the officials will work at least 15 games.
Second, the pension issue continues to prevent an agreement. The league wants to change from a defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution system. The difference, per King, is roughly $3.3 million per year. The officials don’t believe they should have to tighten belts at a time when the NFL continues to grow fat.
Third, the amount of the raise for the officials remains in dispute. The officials want an eight-percent bump. The NFL has offered an increase of 2.5 percent. Again, the discrepancy comes from the fact that the officials believe that, as the league’s pie grows, their slice of it grows commensurately.
The NFL remains stubborn, oblivious (at least externally) to the fact that the performance of the replacement officials underscores the value of the regular officials, who operate far more efficiently and reliably in the crucible of 60,000 fans and foul-mouthed coaches and big, strong, fast players and millions of eyeballs. The performance of the replacements demonstrates the value of the regulars, and yet the league refuses to relent.
As King explains it, the league wants to “wrest back control of the officials’ performance week to week in an NFL season.” But the ritual of collective bargaining requires a party that wants something to give something. It seems like the NFL wants plenty, and that the NFL likewise isn’t willing to bend.
Sure, a raise has been offered. Why shouldn’t it be? Everybody connected to the NFL is making more and more money. The officials should get more and more, too, especially if the NFL wants to emerge from the talks with new powers.
When it comes to the power the NFL has amassed over player discipline, the league is quick to point out that the NFLPA has sacrificed those rights through collective bargaining. Regardless of whether it makes sense for the league to have a bench of officials, the NFL has in past negotiations allowed the current system to emerge. To change it, the NFL must make real concessions.
But the NFL doesn’t want to make real concessions. The NFL never wants to make real concessions. That’s fine, but the NFL can’t then pretend that everything is fine.
As King writes, “Ihe NFL is willing to look at the dispute as something like a game of chess vs. a game of checkers. The league believes that the short-term pain of a football nation up in arms will be worth it two to four years down the road if they can improve the overall quality of officiating by adding what would be a taxi squad of three additional crews.”
Or the NFL can acquire that right by paying for it. Instead, the NFL is willing to alienate fans, anger players, and tarnish “the shield” in order to get its way, hoping that half of the locked-out officials plus one eventually will vote to take the deal.
The NFL is taking us all for granted. In the end, there’s a good chance the NFL is guessing right. But that doesn’t make it right.