5 Thoughts on the NFL Referee Debacle

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I know there will be one billion words written and spoken on this today, but I can’t help myself. At the very least, I hope to offer an angle or two you hadn’t considered.

5 Thoughts on the NFL Referee Debacle

1. Admit it, you have no idea what the “real” refs are demanding.

It’s easy to look at the incompetence of the scab refs and accuse the NFL of not caring about its product, but do you really know the details behind why there has been no agreement between the league and the refs? Before you say “it doesn’t matter”, check out this tweet from Jay Glazer last night:

Notice what he said. Not, “the refs are asking too much”, he called it “total BS”. Imagine if you were negotiating with someone who was asking for something along the lines of “total BS”. Suddenly it’s not so cut and dry, is it?

From what I understand, the real issues revolve around pensions (a money thing) and performance (not a money thing). The NFL wants the power to evaluate refs and pull them from teams if performance is bad. Seems reasonable, but the union isn’t budging. This is one of many reasons there is a stalemate.

2. The fan furor doesn’t matter.

I don’t think it matters as much as you think. Ooooh, the twitterverse was abuzz. Oooh, the ESPN talking heads were angry. What does that really mean in the long run?

Whether the real refs come back for Week 4, Week 10, or Week 1 of 2013, what are the long term ramifications? Two years from now we will all still be watching the NFL, and we will all still love it. We’ll look back on this as an unfortunate period where the NFL didn’t handle it’s business properly, and as fans we won’t feel anger or resentment, we’ll just be happy it’s fixed. Even Packers fans, who might be legitimately angry this morning will be over it. It’s Week 3, there is a lot of football left. (and not to mention they benefitted from a bogus Pass Interference call on THEIR game winning drive).

Be angry and say mean things about the league…but you’ll keep watching and you’ll be over it when it’s done. The league knows this.

3. If I’m Roger Goodell, I go public

If the NFL has legitimate reasons for why they are not caving to the refs demands, then let’s hear them straight from the sheriff’s mouth.

If I’m Roger Goodell I hold a press conference to say exactly why they are not caving and to say at what point in the middle they would like to meet the referees. Perhaps when the public hears how obstinate the refs are being, they will put some of the blame on them too. Saying “the NFL is a billion dollar business, they need to end this now” is lazy. You don’t get to be a billion dollar business by making panic moves based on public outcry.

Now, if Goodell doesn’t have solid reasons for why they have not reached an agreement, and if a press conference like that would only make him look worse…well, then…maybe they should accept what the refs want. But if that’s not the case, let’s go public.

4. The players’ furor matters.

Yes, unlike the fans, the players’ voices do matter. They ARE the product, and they absolutely can put a stop to this.

If the scab refs really are making a mockery of the game and endangering the players by letting games get out of hand, then the players should refuse to play. Plain and simple. If this really is as bad as everyone is saying it is, the players should sit out. Now, I don’t know if legally they can do that, but to me that’s the only way to get the attention of NFL brass.

The other reason the player’s anger matters is because they are going to get more and more abrasive with the scab refs and more and more chippy with each other as each week progresses. They don’t respect the replacement refs at all, and in a game that is as violent as football is, authority has to be respected.

We could easily see a bench-clearing brawl between two teams next week because of dirty play if something isn’t done. (and the funny thing is, the brawl would probably be pinned on the refs – and ultimately on Goodell – for letting things get out of control.)

5. I don’t believe the league HAS TO make a deal today.

I’m sorry, I just don’t.

Will they make a deal soon? Probably. I think they leak news of “significant progress” over the next day or two. I think the scab refs work Week 4 this weekend as we are told that a deal “is expected on Tuesday, October 2nd”. And I think we have real refs for Week 5.

But like I said earlier, I don’t believe the league HAS TO make a deal in response to the fan furor. If there was a chance of the players revolting, I think they would have to move, but I don’t see that happening either.

I go back to Jay Glazer’s tweet. If the NFL is truly between a rock and a hard place, you don’t overreact and give up your position because of last night. You have to think long term. You have to consider more than just next week’s games.

It’s so easy to hate on the NFL and completely blame them for this right now, but I’m not going there. Sure, piling on after last night’s debacle (and it was a debacle) is fun. We love our football, and we hate seeing it compromised. I get all that.

But where’s the outrage over the referees not compromising? It’s not there because people don’t know the specifics of the issues, so they are just blaming everything on the big corporation and assuming they should take ALL of the blame. To me, that’s lazy.

So make fun of the overmatched replacement refs if you want, their performance certainly warrants it. And get mad at Roger Goodell for this mess if you like, you absolutely have that right. But saying that the NFL is 100% responsible for this and believing they HAVE TO cave in today?

Like the second ref in the end zone last night, I completely disagree.




  • Jason

    Sep 25, 2012


    As a Seattle fan, I hate that we were a part of this game. This will overshadow how well our defense was playing (8 sacks in a half, what?!). There was plenty of bad calls throughout the game, and I’m glad you mentioned the PI call to sustain the Pack’s drive.

    But it is awful to get a win this way. We know how it feels to have a game stolen by a ref (see: Testaverde v. Seattle, 1998).

  • ClintM

    Sep 25, 2012


    Pulled from Daniel Klotz on Twitter:

    -The value the real refs bring to the NFL is > $64,000 per team per year. This is why unions are still relevant and necessary.
    -This isn’t so much about the refs wanting more. It’s about the ultrarich men wanting to give the refs less.

  • @ThatGuyKC

    Sep 25, 2012


    I live in Seattle and am glad we “won”, but a W like that isn’t really worth it.

    Really appreciate the attitude check to keep perspective on what we don’t know about the NFL vs. Ref situation. One could draw similar conclusions to politics. But we won’t go there. :)

  • Ernie

    Sep 25, 2012


    Excellent perspective, Bryan. This is great.

  • Lazarus

    Sep 25, 2012


    My beautiful wife asked me this…do you think more casual fans are watching or paying attention to the NFL BECAUSE of the replacement refs?


    No publicity is bad publicity?

  • Nate Eaton

    Sep 25, 2012


    Thank you for writing this Bryan. You articulated a very objective perspective that shows fairness and grace. I scoured NFL.com last night because I realized, “Hey, I have no idea what the real refs actually want that is causing this stalemate. Maybe it is a bigger deal.” I didn’t find anything conclusive, but it the thought gave me pause.

    I hope for the sake of the players’ healths (and the coaches’ too) that the situation is resolved.

  • AymieJoi

    Sep 25, 2012


    Thank you for taking the logical, rational stand on this one. As much fun as it is to bash the rent-a-refs and the NFL, it’s important to take into consideration the facts (or one’s lack thereof) before getting emotional and acting like entitled children. One small step for fan, one giant leap for fankind.

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