I'm not watching as much pro football as I might if this were not a hot and heavy election season. But when I do catch a snippet, I find myself asking who are these guys in the striped shirts? What happened to Ed Hochuli's biceps, not mention his decisive explanations of what the players just did to each other? Why do the refs sometimes look bewildered? Very occasionally, commentators remark that these guys are "replacements" that is, SCABS. The owners have locked out the regular refs to force them to accept a new contract.
These replacement refs come from lower level college and high school leagues. There are more experienced and accomplished officials who work high level college games such as in the PAC 12 and the SEC, but they won't step into these replacement spots because they are already in the NFL pipeline. As with the players, the big schools serve as farm teams for the pro league.
And what is the labor dispute about about? Well, refs want pension benefits that would cost the league about $16.5 million a year or $500,000 per team. Sounds like a lot, until you discover that NFL revenues are around $9.3 billion a year and soaring toward $14 billion. The $500,000 annual figure per team is less than half of the median salary for one athlete, currently $770,000. Source.
So in the scale of NFL money, this is piddly stuff. What's the fight really about? Here's the explanation from the New York Times' sports columnist Judy Battista:
The lockout is about a bunch of rich owners saying "it's our football and we'll do what we want."
It is telling that the sticking point is about maintaining what used to be thought a proper pension plan -- a so-called "defined contribution" plan in which the league invests money and promises it will be there for retirees when they need it. No more -- business won't take that responsibility. Instead, as in the rest of U.S. industry, the owners' aim is to toss their employees out to fend for themselves in the big Wall Street casino.
It wouldn't take a lot of money (by NFL standards) to get the guys who know what they are doing back on the field. But no -- the playboys in the owners' boxes have to make their point, regardless of what harm they do to their product and to players who need pros to officiate this violent game.
H/t Balloon Juice.