As the NFL season approaches, the ongoing dispute between the owners and the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) looms larger. With no immediate end in sight to the lockout, it's becoming more likely that the NFL will start the season with replacement officials.
The heart of the dispute revolves around the league's desire to add three additional officiating crews and to make a handful of referees full-time employees. Currently, NFL referees are part-time, which allows the majority to have a full career outside their duties to the league.
The average NFL referee works 15 games per year and pulls in $149,000; not too shabby for part-time work. While both sides are pointing fingers, it's clear they're both guilty of the exact thing they're blaming each other of . . . greed.
The NFL is willing to pay the full-timers about $175,000. The refs are unwilling to give up their full-time jobs unless they are paid like MLB umpires (up to $350,000) and NBA referees (up to $225,000). It's difficult to sympathize with the NFL referees on this count, since their counterparts are on the road all season, and work up to 10 times as many games.
Adding three additional crews would allow the league to add young blood to an aging pool and increase its officiating options. It would also give the league flexibility if it decided to replace a referee or two due to substandard decision-making.
The NFLRA also disputes the validity of the league's current salary proposal. The league says it's offering up to an 11 percent increase based on service. The officials insist the raise is closer to three percent.
The league also wants to change the officials' retirement plan by converting it from a pension plan to a 401K plan. The league is offering to provide annual contributions of $20,000 to each referee's 401K. Once again, what was the last part time job you applied for with that benefit?
Of course, there's nothing wrong with asking for a raise. And since the NFL is a $10 billion corporation, is the league being petty and jeopardizing the integrity of the game and the health of its players just to save a modest sum? Or, are the refs overestimating the uniqueness of their skills and underestimating the sweet deal they have? Or a little of both?
Many players are multi-millionaires because they have unique talents that 99.9 percent of the population don't possess. They are the primary reason the league has grown in popularity. No amount of training will ever make me into an NFL quality player. No matter how hard I train, I won't be able to bench press 225 pounds, 25 times, while also running a 4.5 second, 40-yard dash.
The job of an NFL referee isn't easy and it too requires a unique set of skills. But I would argue that many more of us could be trained to perform that job. And implementation of the replay has arguably made the referee's job easier.
In the end, if the lockout lasts into the regular season, there are no winners. The NFL and NFLRA lose credibility, players will be at a greater risk for injury, and the fans get a lesser product. Let's hope it's settled soon.
Pete is a lifelong Montauk resident and former sports talk host at 88.7FM WEER. He can be reached via email at Peterfmundo@gmail.com.