My sympathies go out to all the people involved in NFL office pools and fantasy leagues across the country. I also extend my sympathies to the people losing money by betting on the point spreads in Las Vegas or other outlets. The replacement officials who worked the games received no love from anyone except, perhaps, their families — that is, if their relatives weren’t betting on the games.
What the heck is going on? The National Football League finally woke up to the fact they are the only major sports enterprise without full-time officials and decided to pursue that idea. It was clear from watching the minor league officials struggle with the speed, nuance and complexity of play and the rules, that skill, training and practice are necessary to cover as many variables as possible in the course of any NFL game. The substitute refs tried hard, but were overwhelmed by the game. Indeed, over the 55 years I have watched the NFL, the game has become increasingly difficult to officiate. The notion of full-time officials has clearly arrived as the best way to insure the integrity and quality of NFL games and the viability of the league.
But wait! The regular NFL officials are unionized. Also, those guys are full-time employees or employers with generally high salaries from their day jobs. This must mean the NFL official’s union is a white-collar union. They get their expenses paid for so they can travel to games. They have a pension plan. They have insurance. They also pull down season paychecks from the league of $42,295 to $120,998 for 16 games. Playoff pay adds to that for those crews selected by the league. Major League Baseball umpires make $100,000-$280,000 for more than 100 games. National Hockey League officials make $115,000-$220,000 for about 80 games.
The striking NFL officials wanted more per-game money and didn’t want to have to quit their day jobs. In other words, they wanted to control how the games are officiated and by whom. I don’t usually side with owners in labor disputes, but, in this case, the owners had it right.
The NFL is an enormous, multibillion-dollar enterprise with a fan base second to no other professional sport in the United States. The league is attempting to protect its players from concussions with rule changes and official judgments. It is trying to make the game fairer and faster with an emphasis on passing. Great. All these things require practiced and agile officiating with experienced and practiced officials who can apply the complex rules and judgments at the warp speed of today’s game. The replacement officials showed us how tough the game is to officiate and why full-time officials are necessary.
The fans, gamblers, fantasy leagues and office pools deserve no less than the best quality and true professionalism that money can buy for full-time officials to keep making the right calls in a game America loves.
Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. His books are available on Amazon.com: "Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status" and "A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools." He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.