As the highly anticipated National Football League season has finally arrived, many fans have noticed that there is one major difference. The most irritating standoff of the summer has indeed spilled into the regular season, which was something everybody feared would happen.
The NFL locked out the regular officials in June after failing to come to an agreement on a new contract. The average pay for a set of NFL officials for one game last season was $149,000, and the NFL’s last proposal was to increase that to $189,000 by the year 2018, which was rejected by the NFL Referees Association.
Additionally, retirement also seems to be one of the biggest issues in the talks. The NFL does not want to budge on their $40,000 per year pension package that is currently being offered to each retired referee. Now, let’s keep in mind that the NFL referees work once a week, usually on Sunday, which is nothing compared to Major League Baseball’s umpires, who may work five or six games a week, or the National Basketball Association’s referees who may work three or four times a week.
So for the first time since 2001, the NFL has had to resort to “replacement” officials. These officials, similar to those in the movie “The Replacements,” are unemployed officials. In fact, during Monday Night Football, commentator Mike Tirico called these officials, “sixth round picks of the officiating world.” Co-commentator Jon Gruden countered that he thought that they were actually “undrafted free agents”. Nonetheless, the NFL has a serious problem.
The backgrounds of these officials range from division two, three and lingerie football. One referee was removed from a game because pictures were found of him in a New Orleans Saints jersey on his Facebook page. You may ask yourself why the NFL does not get referees from the SEC or the Big Ten? Well, because collegiate referees are locked into contracts with their respective conferences, forbidding them to leave. This all being said, truthfully, the real issue here are not the referees themselves.
Sure, they will take a ton of heat from the public about their missed calls or excessive penalties, but do we not remember the heat that we gave the old referees about the same issues anyway? The real issue here is maintaining the NFL’s credibility at the professional level. The whole point of referees is to maintain order and police the most physical game on the earth. This is not basketball where you could call your own fouls or baseball where you can determine if a player is safe at first base.
Football is a game of leverage and advantage. With the best athletes in the world competing at the highest level, every little advantage a player can gain will be taken and that could be the difference between a big play, a win or possibly even a loss. With “undrafted free agent” referees the game will suffer tremendously.
In a game where it can be decided by one penalty either way, the NFL needs to make sure that they have the most qualified officials in the world out there making these important calls. Do you not remember how out of hand the class would get when you had a substitute teacher?
I can only imagine what it is like with grown professional athletes on a football field.