For as long as I can remember I have hated referees. I hated referees from my pre-school recreational soccer games to my high school lacrosse games (once during a double overtime high school lacrosse game, the ready-to-be-done-with-the-game-and-go-the-hell-home referee called a goal good for the opposing team about ten seconds after the horn blew. I snapped and charged the man like Gerard Butler from 300—lacrosse stick in place of spear—only to be restrained at the last second by my coach).
Spear and shield aside, I always found the worst referees to be in my Division 2 and Division 3 collegiate basketball games. Ironically enough, the same caliber officials have been hand picked by Roger Goodell to monitor the fastest, most confusing, most violent, most watched, most sought after sport league in the world… THE NFL.
Now to be fair, refereeing is not easy. You must be a master of your craft—know everything from strict rules to player/position tendencies. This is one of the reasons why NBA and MLB referees make between 300-500K a year. So considering the NFL makes about TEN BILLION DOLLARS more than either of these leagues in their annual profit margin, you would figure that NFL refs should be in for a healthy payday. Wrong. Thanks to King Goodell, on average NFL refs earn the same salary as a New York City trash man… 40K per year.
Jump to headlines: NFL Referees Go On Strike, “We will not accept trash man wages any longer!” –Unknown NFL Referee.
Note: This is the second season-threatening strike by Goodell’s union in the last few months concerning monetary issues. (Fortunately, earlier this year when the NFL players went on strike Goodell could not, in good conscious, hire Division 2&3 players to take their place.)
But this time Goodell’s got ‘em. Who cares about the tenured referees who have spent lifetimes in the NFL working for Goodell… they’re too damn expensive, and Roger needs a new Rolex.
And just like that with the expression “I bite my thumb at you sirs*” Goodell brought in The Replacements.
Yet, Roger (perhaps consciously) neglected to evaluate the PR hit that his NFL could take from having such inexperienced officials running such high steak games. I’m just not sure if a Division 3 football referee has the tools to judge if an angry James Harrison’s decapitation (not literally, but almost) of a tender Kevin Kolb is legal or not. After a play like this there are three possible outcomes for the referee:
Outcome 1: The hit is deemed illegal and Harrison is called for a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness… next time Harrison misses Kolb and runs into Mr. Greenhorn Referee
Outcome 2: The hit deemed legal. Kolb is now slightly injured, but far too scared of receiving another Harrison hit to re-enter the game. Cardinals loose.
Outcome 3: The play is overlooked (legal or illegal). This option will result in scrutiny from a NFL who is desperately trying to “clean up its game.”
Granted any referee in this situation would struggle with the decision of how to make this call. The glaring difference though is that whatever decision the inexperienced ref chooses, it will be seen as wrong because of his (or her**) utter lack of experience lack of experience.
Think about it. Isn’t it always the referee’s fault? Now Goodell has just given fans, who already believe every missed call is an inside scam, and every made call is just flat out wrong, legitimate arguments for their complaints.
My take is that Goodell is not at all worried about paying his officials a fair salary to his officials—he’s a smart man and he knows how important experienced officials are to the game. Rather, this is a pride issue for Goodell who feels he lost to the players union earlier this year with the new CBA. Goodell is a winner, a winner that would much rather (and is going to have to) pay for the best public relations team in the world than to give a few extra thousand dollars to his referee’s… No one can reasonably debate the fact that the NFL HAS the money.
So who pays for the decision to hire a hundred new, untested NFL referees?
1. The fans. The level of football will diminish due to a lack of ample officiating, and complaining will mount to an all-time high in the 2012-2013 season.
2. The NFL (as a league). This monopoly will take a hit when fans start getting annoyed--Twitter and Facebook providing a forum for their complaints--and ESPN begins evaluating poor officiating and the fan’s opinions. In the end NFL sees a decline in revenue (even though it will continue to tower over all other American professional sports leagues.)
3. The (former) referees. They lose work, but will enjoy being the new referees biggest critics.
4. The (new) referees. The new refs will suffer the most. They are low-paid-puppets who will receive Lebron James like scrutiny on a national stage similar to nothing they have never seen before. Most will break. A very few are likely to survive.
For now, I guess Goodell wins. But he will soon need to re-evaluate if “winning” is truly worth an unpolished product (the NFL) and an unsatisfied consumer (the 111.3 million viewers who watched last year’s Super Bowl.)
Disclaimer: When I reference Roger Goodell I’m speaking of all league representatives, and other NFL management that refuse to pay NFL referees their desired salaries.
** Shannon Eastin became the first female to ever referee an NFL game when the Rams played the Lions this past Sunday.