You can say this for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – the man does not play around at the negotiating table.
A year after the brutal lockout of the NFL Players Assocation that pushed the league to the brink of cancelling games in the 2011 season, Goodell is at it again. This time his target is the NFL’s game officials.
The league’s collective bargaining agreement with its referees expired after last season. The two sides have since been trying to hammer out a new agreement, with no success. This week, things turned sour enough that the league broke off talks and has begun the process of hiring replacement officials in case this stalement is not settled.
Who would these “scab” officials be? The NFL has said it will not raid the top levels of BCS college football, but the league will look virtually anywhere else. Retired college officials, officials from the lower levels of college football, and Arena League officials are all expected to be targets.
Two big questions as a result of this:
1) Will this move by the NFL spur the current officials to give in or dig their heels in and fight harder?
2) How much would “scab” officials affect the product?
Fans around the league (and Bills fans are certainly guilty of this) like to grumble about the current officials. And there’s no doubt there are blown calls each and every game. But by and large I think the officials do a pretty good job. It’s no easy task to officiate on any level, let alone with world-class athletes playing at tremendous speed.
The current officials seem confident that the NFL trotting out replacement refs would be a disaster for the game. A spokesman for the officials said, “It is unfortunate that as referees’ responsibilities are expanded that the NFL would jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game by seeking amateur, under-qualified referees to administer professional games.”
The officials seem to think that the “scabs” would be so inept that there would be some sort of outcry and the league would have to beg the real officials to come back.
Here’s the HUGE risk the officials are taking: what if the scabs come in and the games are not appreciably different? What if you can’t tell the officials are different? Say good-bye to ANY leverage you had at the negotiating table.
And make no mistake – Goodell would be ruthless. He’ll lock out every current official if he has to, just to make a point. If I’m the current officials, I’m cutting a deal and keeping my job. Or else there’s a very real chance they never officiate an NFL game again.
Anyway, this is certainly a story to keep an eye as we (slowly) draw ever nearer to the season.