02 September 2012

Why the NFL has no leverage with the Referees' Association

Yesterday morning, it was announced that the NFL Referees' Association had broken off labor negotiations with the NFL and with no additional meetings scheduled between the two, it means that as the regular season is only a week away, we are going to be subjected to replacement referees for the near future.

While both sides continue to be at a standstill over issues such as salary, retirement benefits as well as the NFL's desires to make one full time refereeing crew, it has become clear that the league holds less leverage than they think that they do.

Now this is not the first time that there have been replacement referees as scabs were used for the first week of the 2001 NFL season. The replacement refs were not a huge concern back then with nary a concern.

But this is a different case because the replacements have been pretty much a disaster all preseason long. There are many examples of ineptitude from the scab refs as confusion has been the main theme. The NFL likes to spin that the referees this preseason have not been that bad and are getting better but that does not excuse the fact that they have, at times, turned the games into sideshows. The NFL cannot deny that they have a problem with the replacement refs because the uproar from fans, blogs, Adam Sandler movie villains and even players has been pretty clear. And if they have been struggling in the preseason, what is going to happen when we get into real games?

And there is a difference with the referees and other labor issues in sports, like for example the NFL lockout a year ago. Unlike players, who do not have another source of income as they have a full-time job, referees can hold out for an extended period in the case of a labor shortage. A few referees are retired, like Ron Winter, who was a physical education professor at Western Michigan University for 35 years. Many referees are businessmen, some are entrepreneurs. Ed Hochuli is a lawyer. These guys can hold out so therefore they have some leverage to sit at home, while they want to be on the field, they will not get dragged back into the negotiating room because of financial needs.

If anything, the NFL will be dragged into the negotiating with the continued incompetence of the replacement referees. I feel that if the replacement referees had been competent and not a storyline in the preseason, there would have been a deal because the regular refs would have noticed that the league could be fine without them and thus they lose the leverage. But, I ask you, has that been the case?

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