Kraft, Mara Among NFL Owners To Push For Referee Deal To Mitigate Damage To League
Following the controversial ending to the Packers-Seahawks game Monday night, NFL owners told high-ranking league officials “to stay the course in negotiations" with the NFL Referees Association, urging them "not to overreact to one bad call and make a bad deal” to end the lockout, according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. However, while “no owners wanted the negotiators to cave, there were differences among them.” Sources said that several owners, including the Panthers’ Jerry Richardson and the Jets’ Woody Johnson, "initially dug in on Tuesday, reluctant to make any deal under such public pressure.” Others, including the Patriots’ Robert Kraft and the Giants’ John Mara, were "concerned that damage was being done to the league by the subpar officiating and the focus on it.” Battista reports when the league and the union “returned to the negotiating table Tuesday, each side was more conciliatory.” The league “probably moved more than the officials to complete the deal.” Falcons Owner Arthur Blank said, “There was a sense of urgency on both sides to get it done. The integrity of the brand is incredibly important. The officiating was creating more controversy and focus on it than on play, and that’s something you never want to happen.” Battista notes with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “leaning on the advice of four owners who worked closely on the negotiations -- Mara, Blank, the Texans’ Robert McNair and the Chiefs’ Clark Hunt -- the league moved most significantly during the final two days of talks on the pension plan.” Goodell during negotiations also “relied on some of the same owners who were critical to getting a collective bargaining agreement with players last year -- Kraft and Mara among them -- and gauged their support for negotiating points, and they in turn helped unite the other owners.” Kraft: “Fans were frustrated the same way we as owners were. I hope they understand it takes two sides to do a deal” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/28).
AGREEMENT WAS COMING: In Boston, Greg Bedard cites sources as saying that both sides were “dug in until they realized the breaking point was coming in Week 4 -- because of competitive-balance issues when bye weeks start -- and then the tipping point of the Monday night fiasco in Seattle.” Kraft said, “This isn’t a perfect business. It’s a bit imperfect, in a sense.” He added, “These replacement refs had a great deal of scrutiny on them. We just wish it had never come to that” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/28). USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell notes even “without the Seattle mess, Mara thinks the sides would have reached an agreement this week.” Mara: “The events of Monday night may have accelerated the process.” When asked if he called Goodell to urge him to reach a deal, Kraft said, “I’m not going to get into my private conversations. But we had our own game in Baltimore” (USA TODAY, 9/28). Kraft added, “Both sides came away with what they want.” But he said, “We’ve come away with an agreement that will allow us to do the best job long term, rather than do a quick fix. We had to be very careful we didn’t damage the brand. If we didn’t get a resolution very soon, that would start to happen" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/28). More Kraft: "We could have done an agreement quickly, but Roger really did a great job here and people think it's about money and the money part of this was really this small (part). ... This is a win/win. They did a tremendous financial deal. They have long-term security. They have an eight-year deal. We've done the same thing. We now know that we have the highest-quality refs doing our games just like doing a long-term deal with the players, with the TV contracts, now we have a long-term deal with the refs" ("The Kudlow Report," CNBC, 9/27). He added, “This is a minor blip and now we move on and we have a great long-term setup here" (ESPNBOSTON.com, 9/27).
LEAGUE HAD NO CHOICE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported it was “hard to imagine the NFL would ever have allowed these replacement officials to ever step on the field again" following the Packers-Seahawks controversy. Schefter: "The league had no choice but to get that deal done this week as quickly as possible, which explains the marathon meeting sessions" (“NFL Live,” ESPN, 9/27). Falcons Owner Arthur Blank said, "The game on Monday night was just kind of a feather in the cap. I think there’s been an ongoing amount of pressure really on both sides to get a deal done and it was just a matter of trying to work out something that was fair to both." He added, "It's not like a week’s gone by where there were no discussions. I think everybody felt it needed to get done ... and some of the issues that were pretty clear to everybody with the replacement officials just kind of accelerated the process” ("NFL AM," NFL Network, 9/27). NFL outside legal counsel Bob Batterman said, “I think the deal would’ve gotten done in a couple of days anyway, (but) would I deny that this expedited it? I think both parties felt that continuing it was causing damage in the public perception and it wasn’t in either side’s interest for that to happen.” He added, “Did it have some effect on the intensity of the bargaining acts? I think so. But we had ramped the bargaining by then in any event” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/28).
SURVEY SAYS: A USA TODAY/Gallup poll of 422 sports fans found that Goodell was “picked as the most disliked commissioner” of the four major pro team sports leagues. Goodell was selected as the most disliked among 38% of those surveyed, followed by the NBA’s David Stern (21%), NHL’s Gary Bettman (20%), MLB’s Bug Selig (16%) and all equally (5%). USA TODAY’s Erik Brady notes the poll was “conducted Tuesday and Wednesday, in the heat of the replacement controversy and before the NFL reached agreement with its locked-out regular refs” (USA TODAY, 9/28). Packers TE Jermichael Finley said, "At this point, everybody knows Roger Goodell. They know what type of guy, what type of businessperson he is. Roger Goodell's name speaks for itself" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/28). Meanwhile, ESPN and Global Strategy conducted a survey of 1,443 fans before the lockout ended Wednesday and found that “more than 76 percent gave the officiating poor marks.” Also, more than 50% of the fans believe calls "made by the replacements during the first three weeks of the season were ‘a complete embarrassment’ and at least half of the fans said they would have watched less NFL football because of the officiating” (ESPN.com, 9/27).
HOW MUCH DAMAGE WAS DONE? In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch writes the NFL shield is “lying in tatters today, thanks to the hypocritical actions of the commissioner and the people who write the checks for its 32 teams.” For Goodell to “emerge from his bunker yesterday and offer what amounted to a halfhearted apology while hilariously trying to claim The Debacle in Seattle didn’t prompt a sudden settlement only makes it look and feel worse” (N.Y. POST, 9/28). Also in N.Y., Gary Myers writes Goodell’s “sacred shield” is now “dented and scratched and looks like it’s been in a five-car pileup on the West Side Highway.” The NFL “will not suffer irreparable damage to its $9.5 billion-a-year business,” but it is going to “take a while to wash away the image of the side judge and back judge, standing nearly shoulder to shoulder Monday night in the end zone in Seattle, one signaling touchdown, the other signaling touchback, on a game-deciding play.” However, Mara indicated he did not think the league's image was tarnished by the replacement refs. Mara: "In a few weeks, this will be forgotten and we’ll be back to criticizing the regular referees” (N. Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/28). Denver Post columnist Woody Paige said the “losers” in the deal are the NFL office and owners because as the owners "didn’t step up throughout any of this situation.” Goodell also "comes out of this as a major loser," as he was “put out in the front and look how his reputation has been tarnished." ESPN’s J.A. Adande said, “The popularity of the game won’t take a hit, but the credibility of the NFL and Goodell and the owners has taken a major blow because they are supposed to uphold the integrity of the game and they failed to do so.” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/27). FoxSports.com's Billy Witz said Goodell and the owners "are the big losers," while the "winners are NFL fans and the referees." Witz: "I don’t think anybody thought that the referees were going to be able to have the NFL coming to them on their knees” (“Rome,” CBS Sports Network, 9/27). In Sacramento, Joe Davidson writes under the header, “Give Goodell A Penalty For NFL Referee Mess” (SACRAMENTO BEE, 9/28). In Chicago, Steve Rosenbloom wrote Goodell’s “tough-guy stance was idiotic from the start.” The NFL is “full of it when it comes to yammering on about integrity and credibility,” and the league is “shoveling big-time when it comes to player safety.” Rosenbloom: “The NFL cares about one thing: money. Period. Any questions?” (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 9/27).
THE BLAME GAME: In Boston, Brian McGrory asks, “Why is it surprising that the NFL owners thought they could get away with a collection of second-raters as officials when society basically stopped honoring expertise a long time ago?” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/28). But in Orlando, George Diaz wrote, “Give Goodell credit for this: He knew that the NFL was tarnishing it’s brand and image as the most dominant player in the landscape of the sports in the United States” (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 9/27). The BOSTON GLOBE’s Bedard writes the officials “had just as much to do with the game being held hostage for the first three weeks as NFL owners or commissioner Roger Goodell.” But “don’t let the officials skate on this.” Fans and the game “were collateral damage,” and the owners and officials “were fine with that.” Goodell also “deserves criticism.” Since being named commissioner in '06, Goodell has “alienated his two largest constituencies: fans and players” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/28).