Stephen Brashear/Associated Press
Frustration with the NFL’s use of replacement referees gave way to outrage after another batch of blunders, none more infamous than the up-for-grabs pass to the end zone that helped Seattle beat Green Bay on the final play of Monday night’s game.
The league put an official stamp on the victory, saying in a statement Tuesday that while the refs did indeed miss a penalty call there was no reason to overturn the touchdown that cost the Packers the game.
Here’s a closer look at the issues surrounding the lockout:
Why aren’t the regular NFL officials working these games?
The league initiated a lockout when the contract with the NFL Referees Association expired in June and the two sides failed to agree on a new deal. Talks have resumed, but without a new collective bargaining agreement in place the regular referees can’t return to the field.
Who are the guys replacing them?
Well, they’re football officials, too, but while they certainly know the difference between a touchback and a touchdown, they’re not used to watching the game at its fastest and most intense level. The major college refs stuck with their usual jobs out of loyalty, leaving the NFL to mine replacements from the lower divisions of the NCAA, minor organizations like the Arena League and retirees from the major college ranks.
What do the locked-out referees want that the NFL won’t give them?
The NFLRA, which has 121 on-field members and also represents in-the-booth replay officials and more than 100 retirees, is at odds with the league over salary, retirement benefits and other logistical issues. The NFL is proposing a pension freeze and a higher 401(k) match; the union is balking because of the greater risk to the nest egg that comes with the loss of a defined benefit.
Since most NFL referees have second jobs, the league has labeled the NFLRA position unrealistic. The union’s argument is that NFL revenues have soared to $9 billion annually since the last agreement was reached in 2006. The league also wants to add full-time refs to the payroll to improve the quality of the officiating. The union opposes that plan because it could cut into each ref’s piece of the salary pool and potentially threaten job security.
The NFL has said its offer includes annual pay increases that could earn an experienced official more than $200,000 annually by 2018. The NFLRA has disputed the value of the proposal, insisting it means an overall reduction in compensation.
Will this be resolved soon?
The complaints from Monday’s chaos, from angry Packers players to fed-up fans to President Barack Obama, surely won’t hurt and may even help move talks along.
In 2001, the league used replacement officials for one preseason game and one regular-season weekend before reaching a new deal that stood through 2005. A year later, a new contract was inked without problem.
Have the calls really been that bad?
Depends on your point of view. New England coach Bill Belichick got worked up enough to grab an official’s arm after a one-point loss at Baltimore, after the Patriots and Ravens were called for a combined 24 penalties Sunday. Earlier that day in Minnesota, the crew let San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh challenge plays twice in a six-play span in the fourth quarter after he first called timeout.
Regular refs make plenty of mistakes, too – “officiating is an imperfect science,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this month. But the replacements often have seemed unsure of the rules and not always in control of the critical moments of the game.
The other concern about fill-ins stems from player safety.