Article by Ian Palmer:
There’s no players lockout to worry about this season in the NFL, but things are far from hunky dory as the league announced that replacement referees are going to be in place when the new season kicks off. The officials and league are still quite far apart in their negotiations, especially when it comes to retirement benefits and the NFL won’t hesitate to keep on using replacements.
The league said the replacement officials have undergone an extensive training period and have all been evaluated. In fact, they’ve already been working in the league’s preseason games. To help with the transition, the league said it will be bringing in former veteran officials to supervise them. The former officials will be in contact with the game officials and will let them know how they’re doing.
The league said current officials have been offered a retirement package that averages $20,000 per year, but the officials' union is seeking more. DeMaurice Smith, who is the executive director of the NFL Players Association, isn’t happy with the use of replacement officials and said payer safety is a concern. He said the league has spent a lot of years training officials and they know how to protect the players. He said it’s absurd to use replacements at this point in time. The NFL Referees Association has been locked since June.
It’s been reported that along with retirement and salary issues, there’s also a disagreement between the league and players concerning operational methods. The NFL wants to be able to recruit officials and train them, but also want the power to replace those who aren’t up to par. The league wants to evaluate officials the same way that players and coaches are evaluated and hopes to do this by hiring more officials as well as employing full-time officials.
The league wants to hire an additional three officiating crews, which would bring the total number of officials up to 140. The NFLRA said it has no problem with this idea as long as the full-time officials are properly paid for their work. The officials say they want to get back to work as soon as they can, but the NFL has so far issued a take-it-or-leave-it stance.
The NFL Players Association could actually help sway the pendulum in the negotiations though since Smith said players are concerned about the work of the replacements during the preseason. He said it’s possible that the players could stage a strike as a form of protest since it’s the job of an employer’s to provide its employees with a safe environment to work in. He said if the NFL fails to live up to its obligation the players have the right to do what they feel is appropriate.
Smith added that the NFL always emphasizes experience when it talks about its officials and combined, the current crew has about 1,500 years of it in the NFL. He said he doesn’t understand why the league would want to shun these officials and replace them with a group of inexperienced referees. He said it seems like the league is more concerned about money than it is about the experience of the officials and the safety of the players.
The NFL has gone through this situation before when replacements officials worked the first week of the 2001 season.