Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Flag alert: bosses just want total control

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:

Unlike last year’s lockout of players, which was largely about creating the economic structure for the league for the next decade,  this dispute is a relatively simple one over compensation and benefits. Current officials want to retain a traditional pension program; the league, pointing out that even many full-time league and team employees do not get traditional pensions anymore, wants to move the part-time officials into a 401(k). The league is also pushing to hire additional officials who would serve as a bench, ready to replace those the N.F.L. determines are underperforming, though some of the locked-out officials doubt the seriousness of that proposal and believe it is a negotiating tactic. It would seem to be a standoff without much of a gap, certainly not one yawning enough that a few phone calls and calm conversations could not bridge it.

But the tone of this lockout has been much sharper and more personal even than the one with players. Repeatedly the league has made the same point ... officials have convinced themselves they are an irreplaceable part of the game, and the league will not make what it deems a bad, potentially precedent-setting deal because of it. …

“I see those meetings as that last-minute warning to us that, ‘We’re serious; it’s time for you to fold,’ ” said [an] official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We haven’t seen any change in their goal: crush us and show us who’s boss, so we will never again act up.”

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.
UPDATE: I don't have time for frills like postgame shows, so I didn't get to see Steve Young rip the league for sticking with the scab refs. But you can see it here:

“The owners don’t care. They don’t care about player safety. They care about breaking the union and they view the refs (labor) as a commodity and you can just throw anyone out there to officiate.”

H/t Balloon Juice.


Paul (A.) said...

That "$500 million per team" should be "$500,000 per team", both times.

janinsanfran said...

Thanks Paul. Correction made.

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