The Replacement Referee Debacle

Twitter has gone into meltdown over the replacement referee issue. Websites all over the world have an opinion and issue with the seeming lack of competency in the NFL officiating core. I agree. They are in way over their heads and are putting themselves and the players in danger. The issue I want to address is the one of the dispute. It is over money and I think they should be paid. The reasons why they should be paid are clear and simple.

Firstly, there is an argument that the refs already have paying jobs so why should they be paid more? Well, that’s, quite frankly, none of your business. If a doctor also had a job as an ice cream vendor on the weekends, would you want to pay him minimum wage for a life saving surgery just because he has another job? A doctor is a specialist and not everyone can perform a tracheotomy on poor Granny Smith. In a similar way, an NFL referee is a specialist. We have seen all too clearly that not everyone can officiate an NFL game. In that sense, regardless of what the referee does off the pitch, they deserve a wage that is on par with the role they do on it. The argument that they don’t deserve more money because they already have another job is ludicrous. They took the time to work up through the ranks and do the job, so pay the men.

If you don’t agree on the amount they are looking for, that’s entirely your opinion. Other sports referees get substantially more than the NFL crews. The NFL referee earns between $25,000 to $75,000. NBA, NHL and MLB officials earn between $128,000 to $141,000. Benchmarking is a policy recognised world wide in valuing an asset in all the accountancy standards and the officials are an asset to the NFL. It is up to you if you want to view the remuneration in relation to the time taken to do the job. The NFL have a short season but are you paying by the hour or by the season? You can break anything down to a ‘pay by the hour ‘ comparative and be shocked. Look at the charge to see the doctor. In Ireland, the average rate is €50 a visit. If you sit in the room with him for 5 minutes or for 5 hours, it will be €50. You pay the money because when you come out of the clinic, your ailment will be hopefully solved and the job you paid for was done. So, let’s pay the referees for getting the job done and not by the hour. They offer a valuable service and we have seen from their absence, just what they are worth to the league. You can only value an asset when you see what it’s cost is and we have seen the costly effect to the game with them missing.

The league is in danger. The integrity of the game is being consistently undermined with every game played without competent officiating. We saw this weekend, the huge hit to Matt Schaub which resulted in him losing a chunk of his ear. Mays should have been heavily penalized and objected from the pitch but this wasn’t called. Darius Hayward Bey received a brutal hemet-to-helmut hit from Ryan Munday on Sunday which knocked him out cold. Despite his concussion and strained neck, there wasn’t even a penalty called on the play. The welfare of the players is in danger with these officials. Granted, these hits could occur with the competent core but perhaps the penalties issued by the previous crews would act as a deterrent for these players who seem to be pushing legality to the limits with some of these hits. Even looking at the disgraceful TD call in the Green Bay game last night showed the crews lack of control as the ensuing melee in the endzone involving a pile up of players even featured a camera man joining in on the pile. Where is the pitch discipline? The replacements seem to be too timid to even break up a few scraps that have broken out on the pitch also.

The replacement officials themselves are at risk. They have been given the task of performing a job that they are obviously not qualified to perform. They are being approached aggressively by the players on the pitch and the coaches on the sidelines. Bill Belicheck will likely get a hefty fine for man handling an official at the Ravens game after he wanted the game winning kick to be clarified. Ray Edwards struck an official and was fined $8,000 during a scuffle in the Atlanta – Bronchos game after a fumble recovery. With avid fans all around the country being denied plays and games due to poor decision making and having to see their star players being carted off the pitch; the officials run the risk of being accosted by an irate fan outside of the arena. As stated before; these officials have other jobs and this could prove disadvantageous as they could be in danger of being confronted in their lives outside the field, making their day jobs untenable.

The NFL and Roger Goodell have been criticised before about putting money over everything. They have made a concerted drive as of late to prevent concussions and have rolled out new rules and incentives for player safety. Some say though, that this was done so as to prevent the legal liability falling at the League’s door and making them give massive payouts to aggrieved families whose loved ones have passed away due to concussion related ailments. Either way, the new rules are a positive for the players but the motives of the League may not be in the right place. The same can be seen here. Will the NFL relish the publicity all of these scandals are causing and leave the replacement officials where they are? Is the press attention increasing viewer numbers and advertising cash flows for the league? Is it cynical of me to suggest that they would put players, officials and the games integrity in harms way just to make a quick buck? Perhaps, but it certainly is food for thought. I would like to believe that the players and game are in the best interests of the NFL and that this outrageous episode will be ended soon. I hope that the Green Bay game serves as the last straw and the only time we will see officiating errors of this magnitude again, will be on a lowlight reel of the referee lockout in years to come.