Digging In For The Long Haul: No End In Sight In Ongoing NFL Referee Lockout
The NFL's lockout of its referees "could go all the way into the regular season," according to ESPN's John Clayton. Refs have been locked out out since June 3, and there is a feeling they are "going to miss preseason games." ESPN’s Adam Schefter said, "This is a deadline league. You saw last year when the players were locked out that a deal got done when it had to, and I think that you’re looking at a similar situation here with the officials. The bottom line is right now is, though, the two sides are not getting along." Talks between the two sides are planned for this week, but the NFL is already "preparing the replacement officials as if they will be in place for that regular-season opener." The league has "already given out officiating uniforms" and literature to the replacement refs. Clayton noted if replacement refs are used, "it could be extremely dangerous" in terms of player safety (“NFL Live,” ESPN, 7/24). SI's Peter King reports the main "sticking points are money and the retirement program." The NFL is proposing to "gradually raise the average pay for officials from $149,000 in 2011 to $189,000 in '18," though the officials want more. The league also would like to "move from a defined retirement plan to a 401(k); the officials want to keep the current system." Refs were last locked out in '01, and a source said, "What's alarming is there's so much more animosity between the two sides than there was the last time there was a stoppage." King notes major college officials filled in 11 years ago, but that "won't happen this time." It will be difficult for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has "spoken repeatedly about the integrity of the game this off-season, to justify not having the best officials on the field -- particularly when the replacements would be patchwork crews from far down the ranks of the game" (SI, 7/30 issue).
LOCKOUT LIKELY TO AFFECT THE GAME: Former NFL VP/Officiating Mike Pereira, who now serves as Fox Sports' NFL and college football rules analyst, said of the lockout, "If they don’t reach an agreement, I think it will affect the game enormously. We’re constantly hearing from the league about player safety and the integrity of the game, but they both will be compromised. They’re replacing the best in the world with some guys who do high school games? They’re going to see speed like they’ve never seen before. ... We’ll see more mistakes, more injuries, if it goes on any length of time." He added, "There’s more animosity now and it involves pensions. ... The league wants to do what industries in peril do, switch to a 401(k). But I think we all find it difficult to look at it and say the NFL is in peril" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 7/25). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said it is "not going to be good for the league" to use replacement refs. Paige: "We’re already dependent on too many instant replays. These guys are not going to make the same calls." SB Nation’s Bomani Jones asked, "Do you remember the disaster piece that was replacement officiating in basketball?" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/24).
LET THE OFFSEASON END ALREADY: SI's King notes the NFL in the past six months "has had to confront so many vexing problems that you wonder, Is anybody happy out there?" In addition to the ongoing referee lockout, the Saints' bounty issue "isn't going away" and the police blotter "has been filled with NFL names," as 29 players have been arrested since Super Bowl XLVI. Also, nearly 3,000 former players and family members are "suing the NFL, claiming it knew about the dangers of head trauma and concussions and failed to disclose the risks," and former NFLer Junior Seau's suicide in May "raised further questions about the well-being of retired players." NFL Giants President & CEO John Mara said, "I'm a little surprised and a little disappointed at the number of issues we're facing." King notes none of the issues are "going to break the league," but the "bigger the game gets, the bigger the potential pitfalls it faces" (SI, 7/30 issue).