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SBD/September 24, 2012/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
The NFL and the NFL Referees Association negotiated in N.Y. last night until close to 9:00pm ET "with a federal mediator present," but talks "broke off with substantial differences remaining on several key issues," according to Peter King of SI.com. The two sides "didn't schedule any further negotiations" (SI.com, 9/24). The AP's Barry Wilner noted sources said that it is “uncertain whether progress was made ... or when further negotiations would take place” (AP, 9/23). However, in Boston, Greg Bedard noted two sources “conveyed optimism that a deal could be struck as early as this week.” That may have to do with “the fact that if common ground isn’t found this week, the lockout might last the season.” What the deal “comes down to is the pension plan,” as the NFL wants to “convert the referees from a defined pension plan to a 401(k), as it has for a majority of full-time employees.” Bedard: “We’re coming to a tipping point. If the officials don’t strike a deal this week, we could be looking at a scenario where the NFL moves away from this current group of officials and starts hiring a new crop as soon as the college season ends” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/23).
OPEN SEASON: The NFLPA Exec Committee yesterday posted an open letter to NFL owners strongly criticizing their decision to use replacement refs. The letter states that the decision to lock out the officials “has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity. ... The headlines are embarrassing.” The committee adds, “It is lost on us as to how you allow a Commissioner to cavalierly issue suspensions and fines in the name of player health and safety yet permit the wholesale removal of the officials that you trained and entrusted to maintain that very health and safety. ... As players, we see this game as more than the 'product' you reference at times. ... Bring back the officials immediately” (THE DAILY).
MISSED CALLS: Several games yesterday were marked by questionable calls from the referees, and USA TODAY’s Gary Mihoces writes, “It was confusing out there with the replacement officials Sunday” (USA TODAY, 9/24). In Minneapolis, Dan Wiederer notes the end of yesterday’s 49ers-Vikings game was “muddled with confusion and a mind-boggling misinterpretation of the rules” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/24). Replacement official Ken Roan said that his officiating crew was “wrong to award” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh two challenges in the final minutes of the game (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 9/24). Fox' Tony Siragusa said of the officiating in 49ers-Vikings game, “That’s the worst I’ve ever seen” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/24). Meanwhile, the N.Y. POST notes Ravens fans “serenaded the fill-in refs -- and millions of viewers tuning in on NBC -- with a chorus of ‘bulls---’” during last night's game against the Patriots (N.Y. POST, 9/24). NBC's Al Michaels said, "That's the loudest manure chant I've ever heard” (“Sunday Night Football,” NBC, 9/23). SPORTING NEWS’ David Steele writes, “If the madness inside M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday night was not the tipping point of Scab Ref-Gate, then there never will be one” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/24). ESPN's Trent Dilfer said, “It’s at a tipping point. ... It’s getting away from them. We needed this signature game where it was decided because of these calls, I think really, to make everybody say, ‘Okay, enough is enough’” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 9/23).
GOING INSIDE THE GAME: With two minutes left in the first quarter of Patriots-Ravens, NBC's Michaels and Cris Collinsworth started to question some of the refs' calls. After a holding call, Collinsworth said, “OK. I don’t know.” Michaels, sounding frustrated, said, “Yeah, I’m with you.” Then, shortly after, the referees called an offensive pass interference and Collinsworth said, “These officials are either going to get the game under control, start calling it tightly or it’s going to be wild. It’s going to be fun to watch. ... This is crazy already. Already, this is going to be crazy. You can just tell it.” Michaels: “You’ve seen both coaches with high blood pressure already in the first quarter.” After a defensive holding call late in the game, Michaels doubted the call and asked Collinsworth, “You tell me.” Collinsworth responded in disbelief: “Oh wow. Wow.” Michaels was heard laughing. Collinsworth added, “Guys, keep negotiating will you?” After the game, Collinsworth said, “It was among the most bizarre game I’ve seen” (“Sunday Night Football,” NBC, 9/23).
GROWING CONCERN: ESPN.com’s John Clayton noted although the replacement officials “didn't blow a game, they keep getting closer to that happening.” Clayton, listing the causes of concern, wrote, “Length of games. Mechanics. Safety issues. The replacement ref problems continue with no end to the lockout in sight” (ESPN.com, 9/23). ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert wrote, “This joke can’t end soon enough” (ESPN.com, 9/23). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes replacement refs “keep finding new ways to bungle calls and, potentially, games” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 9/24). ESPN BOSTON’s Jackie MacMullan wrote it is “impossible not to be fixated on the replacement officials.” It is like “watching a grisly 20-car pile-up.” It is “so hideous and unseemly you find yourself unable to divert your gaze from the wreckage.” Every week fans “think it can't get any worse, and every single week it does.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has taken the league and “sullied it so thoroughly that your players are wondering aloud how they can continue” (ESPNBOSTON.com, 9/23). CBS’ Shannon Sharpe said of the replacement refs, “They’re killing the tempo and the flow of the game.” CBS’ Bill Cowher added, “The inconsistencies are what is creating the frustration” (“The NFL Today,” CBS, 9/23). In Green Bay, Pete Dougherty wrote, “The replacement officials haven’t been an epic disaster, but they’ve been more than bad enough to reflect the league’s indifference to its customers, especially those that have to sit through games at the stadium” (GREEN BAY PRESS GAZETTE, 9/22).
TREATED LIKE SUBSTITUTE TEACHERS: In Boston, Dan Shaughnessy writes, “There is no flow to the game with these officials. There seems to be a dustup after every whistle.” NFL players this month are “like high school students taking advantage of substitute teachers.” They are “pushing the limits” and “pushing one another.” Sometimes they “even shove the officials” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/24). Fox' Tim Ryan said of the officiating, “It's garbage. It's terrible. It's awful. These are guys like substitute teachers, and nobody respects them." CBS’ Rich Gannon: “This is not a problem that's going to get better anytime soon. It's not like they're suddenly going to figure it out. It's inevitable that it's going to cost somebody a game." Fox' Mike Pereira, the former NFL/VP Officiating, said, “This is just not the same NFL game that we're used to seeing. It's sad. The league doesn't want the games to be played like this” (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 9/23). Pereira writes on FOXSPORTS.com the replacement refs “don't know the NFL rules, they don't know how to enforce what they don't know and they don't know how to manage the games.” They are “doing the best they can in a very difficult situation.” Pereira writes, “For all of those who say the integrity of the game isn't being compromised, I disagree” (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/24). In Illinois, Barry Rozner wrote under the header, “Referee Fiasco An NFL Disgrace For Goodell” (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 9/23).
LEAGUE TURNING A BLIND EYE? One locked-out official said that league execs “knew that last week had been a disaster.” In N.Y., Judy Battista notes the NFLRA had “already reached out to the league before then, but there was little doubt in the official’s mind that when the sides finally met in the middle of last week, there was a renewed urgency to end an embarrassment of the league’s own making.” The official said, “They felt the first weekend was passable, a lot of mistakes but not visible, high-profile mistakes. If they were to have another weekend like last weekend, I don’t think they could maintain it like that. There were a lot of safety penalties that were not called. Fortunately, nobody got hurt.” Battista notes the NFL “escaped Sunday relatively unscathed, but that doesn’t make this standoff any less irritating.” The NFL is “used to winning ... and it counted on fans to largely ignore what the league considered just another hard-nosed business negotiation.” But the league “underestimated the audience and overestimated the replacements” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/24).
SUNDAY NIGHT MELTDOWN: The BOSTON GLOBE's Shaughnessy notes Patriots coach Bill Belichick after last night's 31-30 loss to the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium "reached out and grabbed at one of the officials as everyone was coming off the field." Belichick after the game was asked about the officiating and said, "You'll have to talk to the officials about the way they called the game. Talk to the league about it." When asked if he thought he would be fined for grabbing an official, Belichick answered, "No" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/24). YAHOO SPORTS’ Dan Wetzel wrote Goodell "needs to do more to protect the replacement refs he hired to call the games and stop what has become a distracting spectacle.” The league “needs a much stronger and more public push for decorum when discussing calls during games.” Belichick grabbing an official “served as the culmination of a heated day of interaction in the NFL, an inevitable act due to the way the replacement referees have been handled and accepted by the league, its players and coaches” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/23). NBC’s Michaels said of Belichick’s action, “Oh, boy, that’s a few bucks.” Collinsworth added, “I can’t believe Bill Belichick just did that” ("SNF," NBC, 9/23). Meanwhile, Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh was “penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct in the fourth quarter.” Harbaugh said that he was “trying to get the official’s attention to call a timeout, but it came off as bumping him” (BALTIMORESUN.com, 9/24). In Boston, Zuri Berry writes, “This was a tough one for all three sides. There's no way the league, despite Belichick's bump and Ravens coach John Harbaugh's pestering, can excuse away the performance of the scabs. It was an atrocity for a national television audience to stomach” (BOSTON.com, 9/24). Elsewhere, Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan yesterday "followed the refs as they were going into their locker room and had some choice words" after the team's loss to the Bengals at FedExField (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/23).
FINE PREDICAMENT: ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter cited a source as saying that the NFL “plans to fine” Broncos coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio “approximately $20,000 apiece for the way they publicly criticized officials in last Monday night's game” against the Falcons. The source said that the NFL “even called the Georgia Dome at halftime on Monday night to get the message to Fox and Del Rio to tone down their act in the second half” (ESPN.com, 9/23).
As the NFL enters Week 4 of the season amid a lockout of the NFL Referees Association, the N.Y. TIMES' Sam Borden asks if it is fair to wonder whether the replacement officials are “diminishing the entertainment value of the games.” From a “bottom-line perspective, the television ratings for NFL games have been stable.” But "ardent and casual football fans alike have noticed a change in the pacing and rhythm of the games -- a slowing that is almost surely because of the games’ being run" by the replacement refs. NBC “Sunday Night Football” Exec Producer Fred Gaudelli said, “The officials are essential to a smooth telecast” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/23). In N.Y., Gary Myers asked, “What happens if business is good but the product is suffering? The NFL seems intent to find out.” A league that “cares so much about its image has turned the game over to a bunch of amateurs running around in striped shirts” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/23). In Boston, Ron Borges wrote fans now are “watching the way some watch NASCAR,” as they are “waiting for the next wreck.” But fans “keep watching, so who cares?” For NFL owners it is “not about the game anymore; it’s only about the money, of which there is plenty but never enough” (BOSTON HERALD, 9/23). In Miami, Dan Le Batard wrote, “Up in their skyboxes, NFL owners have turned off your air conditioning down below. Where are you going to go? Here’s what you are going to do: Complain and sweat. Here’s what you aren’t going to do: Leave. And that’s why the refs have no real leverage.” All they can do is “hope that the replacement refs keep getting worse as the owners bank on them getting better” (MIAMI HERALD, 9/23).
REALLY A BIG DEAL? GRANTLAND’s Bill Simmons wrote the “biggest failures” have been the players. If the players are “as disenchanted about the officiating as they claim, then why not threaten to boycott games until the real officials come back?” They could say “it's a safety issue -- that they don't feel safe playing a violent sport when it's being overseen by incompetent officials.” But as long as ratings “aren't affected and players aren't getting needlessly hurt, is there really that much of a downside here for the NFL?” It is “hard to remember a sports commissioner needing a diversion more than [Roger] Goodell heading into the 2012 season, actually.” Unless one of his “signature players foils this little ruse by getting seriously injured … he probably pulled it off” (GRANTLAND.com, 9/21). In L.A., Sam Farmer wrote if “enough team owners complain -- or the most powerful ones -- the league will do what's necessary to bring back the regular officials.” Farmer: “This boulder won't be rolled away until the 32 bosses of Commissioner Roger Goodell insist it must be” (L.A. TIMES, 9/22).
LOCKOUT ACTUALLY GROWING THE GAME? ESPN's Bob Ley: ”The average locked-out regular NFL game official has already lost about $50,000 so far. That’s about a third of his annual officiating income. ... The substitute teacher analogy was officially recognized when the NFL peered into the classroom like a vice principal, sending all hands a memo this week mandating respect for the game. ... There is a growing, disturbing tone to the reaction. ... In a vacuum, the NFL is pushing for a smart business deal, trying to roll back pensions for part-time officials, in an economy where full-time private sector employees rarely have them. Perversely, all this chatter about sub-par officiating is growing interest in the game, this $10 billion industry. So, we have benign neglect, as not only art form, but an NFL financial strategy, and it’s working” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 9/23).
The Maple Leafs-Red Wings Winter Classic "is on the chopping block, a potential early victim of the lockout," according to Kevin McGran of the TORONTO STAR. A source said that, barring a settlement, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "plans to cancel it in November -- to take away any advantage the players may have at the bargaining table because of the game’s popularity." The source said Bettman told the BOG he was "going to cancel the Winter Classic in November because he didn’t want the players to use the game as leverage." Another source said, "It’s a scare tactic. It just proves the NHL has no intention of negotiating any time soon" (TORONTO STAR, 9/21). In N.Y., Pat Leonard wrote, "If true, it is also an absurd, empty threat, considering the New Year's Day game never was a stop-gap to force a deal to begin with." But "let's not pretend only one side is holding up negotiations here." Leonard: "Kudos to the union for standing its ground against a league that not only set the ugly tone of these negotiations ... but does not apologize for it" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/23). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote this "means two things." One is that the NHL "is preparing for a long lockout, which everyone pretty much could have guessed already." The other, "far more disheartening thing, is that Bettman’s strategy for negotiations is to be as ruthless as he can be." From the "standpoint of getting the best deal for the owners he represents, canceling the Winter Classic would be a masterstroke for Bettman." He is "correct to recognize that the NHLPA could use the Winter Classic as leverage, and in fact, it is the union’s only real potential leverage." Removing it from the equation "would strip the union of everything but its resolve, and the owners figure that missed paychecks ought to take care of that" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/21).
LEAGUE LOOKING FOR COMPROMISE: NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said it will take "some sense of compromise on the players association side" to break the current impasse. He added, "What I'm trying to say is we have made compromise already." Daly was "making the league's case as part of a public relations contest that the players seem to be winning." He said, "Of course we care what our fans think, and we are cognizant of that. That's why they need to hear our message as well as the players association's" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 9/23). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS' Leonard in a separate piece noted Daly on Friday was unavailable for negotiations because he "had to fly to western Canada to attend an Alberta Labour Board hearing at which players on" the Oilers and Flames "challenged the NHL's attempt to lock them out as unlawful." Leonard wrote, "The union may believe these tactics are useful in jamming up owners plans for a long lockout, but the short-term consequence -- on Friday, at least -- was to remove a key player from the NHL's side of the negotiating table in Daly, thereby pushing back any scheduling of meetings over the weekend or beyond" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/22). QMI AGENCY's Chris Stevenson notes yesterday in an "informal poll of parties on both sides of the divide ... there was nothing but pessimism and dire predictions." A "feeling in the players' camp is that it is a foregone conclusion this season will be lost to the lockout." One respondent on the players' side wrote in a text message, "Question now is what happens the following year" (QMI AGENCY, 9/24).
DEVELLANO FINED: In Detroit, Ted Kulfan reported the NHL fined the Red Wings an "undisclosed amount for comments made by" Senior VP & Alternate Governor Jimmy Devellano, who last week "talked about the NHL lockout candidly" in an interview. The fine reportedly was estimated to be around $250,000 (DETROIT NEWS, 9/22). Also in Detroit, Helene St. James wrote the fine could be "possibly as much as $1 million" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 9/23). Devellano in the interview said, "The owners can basically be viewed as the Ranch, and the players, and me included, are the cattle. The owners own the Ranch and allow the players to eat there." He added, "Let the players take 43% and let the owners take 57%. Just reverse it from where it is now and let the owners run the rest of their business and manage their expenses" (ISLANDSPORTSNEWS.net, 9/20). YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote the "problem is that when the league muzzles the owners and executives ... if one person speaks to one news outlet, it blows up into a much bigger deal than it should be." The owners are "smart enough to know that it is easier to keep up a united front and stay on message if they let only two people do the talking." Cotsonika: "But if the owners are really united, what are they afraid of? That we'll see them for what they are?" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/22).
MORE THAN JUST MONEY: YAHOO SPORTS' Cotsonika in a separate piece wrote the NHL lockout "is about more than money." One team exec said, "This lockout is a bit about philosophy." Cotsonika: "In other words, this is also about power and pride -- the owners showing who's boss, the players standing up for themselves." Agent Ian Pulver, a lawyer for the NHLPA during the '04-05 lockout, said that it "comes down to this: Do the owners really need the concessions they are demanding, or do they just want them?" Pulver said, "If wants trump needs, then this is going to take a long time. What's in it for the players by waiting? Well, fairness." Cotsonika wrote, "Publicly and privately, league and team executives say they definitely need these concession. Seven years of record revenues did not translate into seven years of record profits." The players "know they have already lost -- that it is just a matter of how much they will lose at this point" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/21). In Toronto, Steve Simmons wrote should the lockout extend "into the early months of the season and possibly longer than that, with each missed paycheque the question becomes: What are the players fighting for?" If the players "miss four cheques, for example -- they are paid 13 over the course of most regular seasons -- that's a loss of 30.7% of their season's salary." Simmons: "I'd rather accept a 10% rollback than lose 30.7% now and who knows what else later." The "tapdance" for NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "is balancing toughness with pragmatism." At what point "does accepting a rollback become less painful financially than continuing the lockout?" The players "have no leverage" (TORONTO SUN, 9/23). In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote it is "time for the moderate and progressive wings of the NHL Board of Governors to reclaim their league from the extremists who have managed to set the collective bargaining agenda." What seemed "unthinkable over the summer and even up to a week ago, appears not only possible, but probable: The season -- another season -- is going to be canceled." There is "a deal to be had here." A source said that Bettman "has told people he believes the NBA and [Commissioner David] Stern caved in to save the 2011-12 season by giving the players between 49 and 51 percent of basketball revenue." The source added that Bettman "is resolute in his stance against giving more than 48 percent to the union over the life of the next NHL agreement" (N.Y. POST, 9/23).
After one week of the NHL lockout, more than 60 NHLers "have signed or agreed to play in European leagues," according to Jeff Klein of the N.Y. TIMES. That is a "pretty significant number -- but a far cry from the 200 who signed to play overseas after one week of the lockout" in '04-05. This time around "a full-season lockout is not expected." The "feeling among the players is that neither they nor the owners want to kill the golden goose, and some kind of compromise will be found that allows play to resume after a few weeks" (NYTIMES.com, 9/24). ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang cited reports out of Sweden that a "recent antitrust ruling may open up the Swedish Elite League, Elitserien, to locked-out players looking to play in Europe." The SEL was "previously closed off to NHL players during the lockout, though that policy may now be subject to change." SEL is "regarded in the hockey community as one of the premier European leagues" (ESPNNY.com, 9/21). YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski noted NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr appeared on Vancouver's CKST-AM Friday and was asked about the "number of players leaving for Europe before the NHL regular season had been affected by the lockout." The message to players was that the "lockout was inevitable, the season's at risk again, so don't waste your time waiting for a resolution that never came seven years ago." Wyshynski wrote it "does help that NHL players have a few more options this time" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/23). In Arizona, Sarah McLellan wrote, "Is anyone else surprised some of the superstars have already secured European contracts and are playing overseas? A day after the lockout started players were already making plans. I can understand some lesser stars wanting to make the move to earn a paycheck, but the likes of Rick Nash, Joe Thornton and Alex Ovechkin are definitely not struggling in that department" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/22). Agent Justin Duberman on Saturday said, "There is a lot of risk in going over. There's a lot of great things about going over as well from a hockey standpoint, but you have to make sure you protect yourself from an insurance standpoint to make sure it's a great opportunity." He added, "As you get older, the disability rates get higher. It gets expensive, and I mean it gets really expensive" (OTTAWA SUN, 9/23).
PLAYERS WAITING IT OUT: Devils G Martin Brodeur on Thursday said, "I've actually been part of four work stoppages now." He added, "I counted it up the other day, it's going to be well over 100 games that I lost in the NHL because of work stoppages." Brodeur: "I'm going to wait it out until October, when they're going to start slashing games, and try to have a sense of where it's going." He added, "When you always try to bully somebody, it's kind of tough. It's been three times now. ... It's tough when they use the same things to always get what they want, but again, they're in their rights to do it" (ESPN.com, 9/21). Lightning coach Guy Boucher on Friday said, "I'd be a liar to say I'm not afraid. Everybody is afraid" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 9/22). NHL player agent Neil Abbot said, "I do believe we're in for a long haul. I don't think this lockout is going to end anytime soon." He added, "This is as mean-spirited as I've ever seen it coming out of New York" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/24). Sharks D Dan Boyle on Friday said he thinks NHL execs “want us to miss some paychecks” (CSNBAYAREA.com, 9/21).
GOING AT IT ALONE: In Raleigh, Chip Alexander noted Hurricanes players "skating Friday at Raleigh Center Ice had a different look." Instead of "jerseys with the Hurricanes logo on the front, the players wore jerseys with the NHL Players Association logo and #THEPLAYERS on the back." Hurricanes D Jay Harrison said, "It's just something that keeps us unified. It's a union initiative to brand ourselves. That's what we represent, that's who we support" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 9/22). In Nashville, Josh Cooper reported the Predators players have hired Shawn Allard as their coach. Allard last season worked for the Predators “as a skills consultant, but because he’s an independent contractor his current role with the players is not a violation of the lockout.” The players are “paying him to coach them” (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 9/23).
IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE? In Toronto, Steve Simmons wrote Gary Bettman from the business end has “mostly succeeded in his role” as NHL Commissioner. Where he has “failed miserably is with advancing the game and the league itself.” The damage done from “every fight between players and owners may not translate to season tickets or television ratings, but what it has done is take the homespun nature of the NHL to remove it forever.” This was a league “different than the others, with players more accessible, with teams in touch with their communities.” But that is “going, if it’s not completely gone already” (TORONTO SUN, 9/23). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Roy MacGregor wrote, “Don’t be fooled -- this time around isn’t even remotely the same as last.” At least “not for Canadians, who continue to use the word lockout as if it has the same meaning in 2012 as it did in 2004.” In ’04 Canadians called it “cost certainty.” Today the “only thing an outsider can see in the squabbling” over hockey’s $3.3B pot is “greed certainty” (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/23). In Denver, Terry Frei writes under the header, “Gary Bettman Doesn’t Deserve All Blame For NHL Lockout” (DENVER POST, 9/24). In Vancouver, Ed Willes wrote the “gulf between the haves and the have-nots in the NHL is now so wide, the system has become unworkable.” Willes: “How can a system fix that? The short answer is it can’t, which is why we’re locked into this cycle of bitter negotiations and work stoppages.” Until the NHL “makes some hard decisions about where it operates, it’s going to be the same sad song played over and over again” (Vancouver PROVINCE, 9/22).