The NFL’s lack of willingness to negotiate a compensation package with its officials has drawn almost unanimous criticism from coaches, players, fans and commentators.
The first-choice officials, who have been locked out following the expiry of their collective bargaining agreement, have been replaced by referees that were officiating in the Lingerie Football League, among others.
One replacement ref was pulled from last Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers for having pictures of him in Saints apparel plastered all over his Facebook page. Unfortunately it was not the NFL who discovered this, in its “thorough background checks,” but ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen, who reported it to the league.
Adding to the impropriety, Philadelphia Eagles star running back LeSean McCoy reported last Monday that one referee said: “McCoy, come on, I need you for my fantasy team.” The NFL promptly stated that its officials are not permitted to take part in fantasy games, but given that they were prepared to let a fan referee his own team, are we sure they are fully in control of the situation?
More seriously, player safety been brought into the spotlight. Following an increased emphasis on concussion prevention and treatment in recent years, after a number of brain-related deaths, several illegal hits to the head have gone unnoticed by referees prompting player and coach concerns that severe injury could be imminent.
Luckily the referees haven’t decided the outcome of any games yet, although it has come close. In week one the referees misguidedly awarded the Seattle Seahawks a fourth timeout. With Seattle trailing the Arizona Cardinals 20-16 with less than two minutes to go, the extra time granted to devise a play could have been the difference between a win and a loss, and at the end of the season whether a team makes the playoffs or not.
Las Vegas casinos corrected anticipated this week to be the highest scoring in the history of the league – forecasting an average of 46 points per game – with the referees’ penalty-happy attitude expected to boost scoring.
It should not be forgotten that the usual officials are far from perfect, but after three weeks of watching the game reduced to a farce, with skirmishes breaking out on a regular basis, and players intimidating officials, it is clear the NFL needs to rectify the situation.
Research has put the NFL’s revenue in 2012 at $9.5 billion, while the referees’ demands amount to $45 million over seven years, a figure not worth letting the company’s name fall into disrepute over.
image: © Keith Allison