Five Things You Need To Know About The NFL Labor Dispute with the Referees

Editor’s Note: This article is a collaborative effort between Dubsism and Ryan Meehan from First Order Historians. Ryan also has his own blog, East End Philadelphia, which is featured in our BlogRoll and it is well worth the read.

This time last year, we were just getting over a labor dispute with the players which threatened to wipe out the season.  Once that nightmare was over, we got a lot of teary embraces, joining of hands, and a lot of song and dance about how we would now have a decade of labor peace in the National Football League. Like most things which come out of Roger Goodell’s mouth, that was a freight train loaded with bullshit.

While this dispute with the referees won’t kill the season, it make fans literally blow their eyeballs out of their skulls at the level of incompetency you can expect if the NFL goes through with its plan to use “scab” officials. This would be such a horrible public relations fiasco for the NFL that they are really keeping quiet about how bad this might be. This is why Meehan and J-Dub have collaborated to shine some truth on the situation being created by Kommissar Goodell.  Here are some basic facts Goodell really would prefer you didn’t know.

1) The soul of this labor dispute is really all about union busting. 

J-Dub:

It should a huge indicator what a flaming asshole Roger Goodell is when I (who happens to be exceptionally anti-union)  have some empathy for the referees.  Just look at how the NFL put a strong-arm job on the players, which just happens to be the one union that matters to the NFL. The league learned the hard way in 1987 that people won’t watch a game full of replacement players, but they are gambling that you won’t care about scab referees. Therefore, you can bet the NFL will put the long, unlubricated, Turkish-prison-style rape-job to the referees.

Just like they did to the players, the NFL has offered pay raises of 5 to 11%, which is far under those previous labor negotiations. This is being done in an era when referees are coming under increased scrutiny since most of them are lousy anyway.  However, this is also an era in which the NFL expects to see its yearly revenues go from $9 to $16 billion per year. This is also an era where we’ve introduced salary caps, franchise tags, and rookie pay scales. That means this is all about squeezing every last kidney stone out of the golden-egg laying goose.

Here’s the bottom line.  It is one thing to make prudent, financially-responsible decisions to keep an enterprise profitable.  It’s entirely another to be a money-grubbing scum-bag.  Ever since the advent of free-agency, the scum-bag role has been reserved for the unions.  Roger Goodell’s level of assholery has managed to reverse that polarity. Worse yet, he has political cover for now; it’s going to take a train-wreck of monstrous proportions by the replacement refs for the locked-out officials to get public sentiment on their side.  Until that happens, Kommissar Goodell holds all the cards.

Meehan: 

Goodell does hold all the cards.  Which is total horseshit when you think about it, because we’re not playing cards.  We’re supposed to be playing football.  There’s this ridiculous idea that the NFL developed a few years back that says that there’s one figure that represents the total annual revenue accrued by the NFL.  And that once that figure is in place, there is only that money to pay everybody involved with the league at any level.  But there’s two fundamental problems with that:

a)  The original number is WAY lower than the actual amount of money they are making.  It’s no different than trying to lowball a guy when you’re buying a used car.  You look for every possible excuse that you can to say that your multimillion-dollar sports league isn’t worth as much as it really is (which is of course hilarious since all of the merchandise is made in Korea) so that when it comes time to pay everybody you can just say that there’s “just enough money to go around”, leaving very little room for a pay increase.

b)  The number that they are originally providing you with doesn’t take into account brand equity, or the fact that the NFL isn’t going bankrupt anytime soon.  It’s not Major League Soccer, there are no worries that the NFL is going to all of a sudden be in the red tomorrow morning.  All of this basically means that they are lying to you about how much money they’re making because they’re assuming that you’re not going to look anything up about the massive deal they signed with Direct TV that makes the original AOL Time Warner merger look like it’s ordering a fucking grilled cheese sandwich off of the children’s menu.  Beware, there’s another grilled cheese sandwich metaphor coming later.

2) The replacement referees will be terrible.

J-Dub:

If you were going to replace NFL officials, it would make sense to get them from the same place you get the majority of the players’ right?

Forget it…that ain’t gonna happen.

You won’t see many major college conference officials among the replacements because a number of big-conference officials supervisors are former NFL referees and they are refusing to lend out their officials as a show of solidarity for their locked-out brethren. Not to mention, it has been widely reported that several former NFL officials such as Red Cashen, Ron Botchan, and Jerry Markbreit, have steadfastly refused to assist in training the replacements. That means all of the “scab” referees” will have very little training and very limited resources to prepare.

Sunday night’s Hall-of-Fame Game was a preview of coming attractions.  Craig Ochoa, who has eight years of experience in BCS conferences and 16 years officiating Division III games, was the referee for the game between the New Orleans Saints and the Arizona Cardinals.  Ochoa flipped a commemorative coin at midfield to start the game, then incorrectly announced the result to the crowd, saying that New Orleans had won the toss and deferred.  It was only after he started to walk away that he caught his mistake.

Meehan: 

This one is kind of self explanatory.  It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if you have second tier people doing a particular task that the task will not be done to specs.  Refereeing is a very complex skill that takes many years of practice, determination, and willingness to blow all of your credibility at the end of a Chargers-Broncos game.  And that’s if you’re lucky.  There’s a reason that the scrub refs aren’t in the bigs…because there’s either no room for them or they just aren’t good enough.  The first might not be their fault, but such is life and such is any other position in the working world.

Now, a lot of people are glazing over this whole thing because they watch the game for the players and teams involved.  And they’re right.  But what the NFL is doing is making it glaringly obvious to all involved that don’t have their head crammed up their ass that since the referees aren’t directly related to their revenue stream, they could really care less about them.

The scrub refs are essentially the “open mike crowd” from your local lame-ass Comedy Club.  Goddell is the emcee and he has to sell you on the idea that for the next five minutes this dude who is a dishwasher at Shoney’s is going to have you falling out of your seat laughing.  But it’s hard to feel sorry for him, because he’s the one who wanted to host the show.

3) It Took A Terrorist Attack To End The Last NFL/Referees Dispute

J-Dub:  

The most recent labor agreement between the referees and the NFL expired May 31, and the zebras got locked out three days later, right after the NFL broke off a marathon negotiating session with a federal mediator.  This is the same tactic the NFL used to strong-arm the players, with the league upping the ante by hiring replacement officials to work the exhibition season and possibly the regular season.

As ugly as the lockout with the players got, the NFL never brought in scabs, having learned the aforementioned lesson in 1987.  That lesson didn’t carry over to the last dispute with the referees.  The NFL used replacements briefly in 2001 during the exhibition season and for the first week the regular season. Then came Tuesday, September 11th.  In the aftermath, the league and the union figured out that not doing everything within their power to help America “get back to normal” would have been a cataclysmic approach.

Meehan: 

This is much what Dubs was saying earlier about it being a union busting issue.  There is so much pride involved with unions that it’s difficult for them not to take everything personally. It certainly isn’t going to happen overnight and it’s going to get a lot uglier before it gets any prettier. And from the way it already looks you’d have an easier time freebasing Woolite than trying to get these two sides to come to an agreement.

Growing up I vaguely remember the 1987 season, but I definitely know that if there are any asterisks anywhere in the NFL record books they’re probably going to be associated with that year. There is always the chance that the product’s quality will drop, but since you don’t have an Ed Hochuli jersey it’s going to be very easy for the NFL to overlook.  The likelihood that this doesn’t get resolved anytime soon is precisely what makes it such a crisis in the first place.  This is serious, serious business.

4) If this goes into October, the chance that President Obama makes this a campaign issue could be disastrous.

J-Dub:  

Regardless of your political stripe, there is no denying some crucial facts:

a)  Obama loves to get involved in union negotiations, from the government takeover of General Motors and its pension fund, to his close relationship to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

b)  Obama is desperate to toss out smoke-screens which misdirect attention away from important issues.  This is why we keep hearing exceptionally stupid shit about some rich guy’s tax returns from a guy who can’t kill a controversy about a birth certificate. If the aforementioned train-wreck in the NFL happens during the election season, you can count on Obama to come charging to the rescue, because Lord knows, the single-most important problem in the world at the time will be the well-being of a bunch of insurance salesmen who just happen to wear stripes on Sunday.

c) If Obama does get involved, he has no choice but to fuck it all up.  Before you start writing me the usual dip-shit political comment, consider the following. If Obama were a waiter, he’d be the kind that brings you a burnt grilled cheese sandwich when you ordered a cheeseburger, and when you complain about it, he tries to make you feel stupid for wanting a cheeseburger in the first place.  When you get pissed and demand to speak to the restaurant manager, he cops out with some bullshit about “he didn’t understand which cheese thing you really wanted.” In other words, despite all that “Hope” and “Change” crap America swallowed four years ago, Obama is exactly the same as every other politician since the dawn of time.

Here’s why that matters. If he does inject himself into this situation, he’s got no choice but to piss off one of his core constituencies.  On one hand, if he sides with the NFL, he will piss off his union-based backers who really are the backbone of his political base.  However, if he sides with the union, he’s going to piss off a large chunk of the richest people in America, and despite what you may believe about American politics, there is no such thing as somebody who got elected President without the backing of a lot of rich people.

Now for the real turd in the punch bowl.  Obama has been a big supporter of women’s rights, and if the NFL goes into the regular season with replacement referees, one of them is going to be a woman.  The league has announced that the first-ever female official will be used in tonight’s preseason game between the Packers and San Diego Chargers.  The NFL has also stated that they have several more female officials waiting in the wings, and there were rumors the league had considered hiring a full-time female official this past season but didn’t pull the trigger.

Think about what that means.  The first female NFL referee’s job will be the result of a labor dispute.  If Obama gets involved in this matter, it will be a lose-lose-lose situation.  Since this female official will lose her job if the locked-out referees are re-instated, Obama’s opponents could easily claim gender equity isn’t an important issue for him, so long as he makes “Big Business” happy.  If he ensures the locked-out referees lose their jobs, his union support becomes problematic. Worse yet, any intervention bolsters Goodell’s position that he is running an enterprise so crucial to the American soul that he should be given unlimited power to run it.  After all, if it takes the President of the United Fucking States to solve a problem in the NFL, then it is only logical that Kommissar Goodell should have “executive order” (read that “dictatorial”) powers.

If that happens, you can start the countdown from now until the day soccer becomes the most popular sport in America.

Meehan: 

Man, it’s so hard for me to get a beautiful opportunity to bag on soccer after that kind of an introduction and then not do it.  Let it be known the only reason that I’m not is because I already took a shot at them in the first segment.

The Obama thing is tricky because he is a sports fan, but with the current sad state of affairs that has become everyday life in the United States today he has absolutely no business getting involved with sports.  AT ALL.  He used the BCS thing as leverage during his first campaign, and it was one of those zero statements – All he basically did is say that he was in favor of a playoff system, which most of the country agreed with anyway because it makes sense and that’s why we’re headed in that direction now.  I just think any politician who does that is just weak.  Seriously…This is the equivalent of when a politician says “I support harsher punishments for sex crimes involving children”.  WELL NO SHIT.  Of course you do, because unless you count Chuck E. Cheese, there are no sex offender lobbyist groups hassling Congress to go easy on guys like Jerry Sandusky.  Obama will try and do the same thing, and Romney will be able to use it as leverage and say things like “Shouldn’t we be worried about the real issues here?”  Only he’ll do it with that really slick voiceover sounding thing that he does and people will actually think for a brief moment that they can relate to him.

To be honest, I don’t really care what Obama’s point of view is when it comes to something like this.  As far as I’m concerned, this is a crop dusting plane and he needs to keep his eyes on the road because he’s doing 70 on the interstate.  Which happens to be torn up as hell and shrunk down to one lane, so you could understand why this would be a much unnecessary distraction.  I don’t think he’ll get involved as this will likely be handled by a federal mediator, if it even gets to that point.  I would love to see a female referee on the regular staff in the very near future, instead of someone that will (as J-Dub said) just lose their gig as soon as this is resolved.

5) The NFL thinks you are all sheep who will watch football no matter what.

J-Dub:  Whatever happens, the reality of the situation is quite clear:  Football will take place regardless of who is wearing the stripes. As long as you keep watching, the NFL couldn’t give a shit less about the quality of the product they are putting on the field.  Face it. They’ve already got you paying full price to watch pre-season games loaded with guys who will be loading trucks at UPS next week.

Meehan: 

He’s right, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  However, I do believe that if the quality of the NFL’s product begins to dip, the sports fans that are real die hards will begin to make their voices heard and criticize it to greater lengths.  But even then…BAAAAAAAAA…

Summary:

Since J-Dub did the intro, I’ll go ahead and close this one out.  What we are trying to get across in this piece is that this is a huge deal that is getting what I believe is not nearly enough press when you consider the severity of the situation.  We’re talking about the biggest sports machine in the entire world not having its officials, and I consider that to be very serious.  While there is plenty of news about what cereal Tim Tebow is eating and how Peyton Manning is still media-friendly, a major issue is for the most part almost becoming buried under a lot of all that other garbage.

As with any entertainment production, it takes a lot of people to put on a show.  The NFL is one of the best shows in the world.  And let’s not forget, the referees are on the field.  In many ways they manage the pace of the game.  Without the first string referees, we have a product that isn’t nearly as precise as the fans would like it to be.  When these things happen, it’s up to the commissioner to get his shit together and figure out how we can keep this from happening in the future.

Once again thanks for stopping by First Order Historians and Dubsism for more information on how to be undeniably awesome.

Stay tuned to Dubsism,  First Order Historians, and East End Philadelphia for more up to the minute advice on how to be undeniably awesome.

-J-Dub and Meehan

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8 responses

  1. I truly hope that these replacement referees don’t make crucial mistakes that greatly affect the outcome of games. The NFL is reaching down to even the high school levels for referees, and that could cause for some inadequate refereeing.

    1. Good to see you back, Sam!

  2. NFL Refs could become the next NHL players at this rate.

    1. Yet more proof that ownership and labor in the major sports don’t give a shit about the fans. Maybe it’s time we locked them out.

  3. The following is offered purely in support of Point #2.

    http://deadspin.com/replacement-referees/

  4. Still no end in sight to this thing.

    I was watching the end of last night’s Buccaneers-Patriots game.

    The Pats had a touchdown in the waning seconds that seemed pretty clearly to be a touchdown, yet the refs reviewed, and reviewed, and reviewed, and then reviewed some more.

    If this sort of thing keeps up, I expect games to be much longer this season. Don’t get me wrong. I think all of us are okay with more football, but that’s not exactly what we meant.

  5. As a purest of NFL watcher-Do the owners not even take into consideration that THEIR PLAYERS are pissed off? Even one Steeler stated-we should have NOT one that game when he watched the replay! FROM THE PLAYER! Imagine what the Millions upon millions of fans are saying! Sure-the games go on-but the owners SHOULD care the fans are pissed off! I could get in there and do a better job then the pizza delivery man they gave a ref suit to. They Have NO experience or training. I believe the PLAYERS should stand up and DEMAND an end to the fiasco the owners are fighting. This is the livelihood of many! The players , the refs and the owners. It takes time and effort and it is a REAL job to be out there and call the plays correctly! So pay them correctly! You pay the player with a broken lag more to sit out all season than the men running up and down the field so the game is FAIR to each side! Heck-we thru one out because he was a Steelers’ fan and decided he wouldn’t call it fairly. Someone drank their coffee that morning. Sundays are NO LONGER FUN! They are a JOKE! We are no longer watching the great players-we are watching what fiasco the ref will pull next.

  6. [...] one of the most popular teams in the league to get any action to resolve this mess.  Some of us predicted that a month before the season started…and we knew exactly why as well. It should a huge indicator what a flaming asshole Roger [...]

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