The economy is in tatters; the nastiest, most expensive election in history is upon us; people are really struggling to feed their families; and the NFL employs some of the most selfish people on the face of the earth.
That is one way to look at it; the NFL referee lockout, that is. Wasn't it just last year that fans were forced to endure a lockout by the players? What is it with these guys? How much money is enough?
The fact is that the season officially begins on September 5, when the New York Football Giants host their arch rivals and divisional punching bag, the Dallas Cowboys. It's also a fact that unless the professional referees come back, this season will be a debacle on so many levels. Just in the first few games alone, there have been enough bad calls to fill up an entire season. For instance, a touchback on a downed punt on the 4-yard line during the Buffalo-Washington game, or Jason Hosley, punt returner for the Giants, while returning a punt was called for holdingÂ—seriously?
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, taking the diplomatic approach, had this to say, "There are certainly mistakes made. There's nobody at this junction, having played one preseason game, coaches included, who haven't made errors. I'm not going to worry too much about that. I can't afford it. We have to get a team ready to play."
Now, the first impulse is to blame these officials, and that isn't the right thing to do. They were asked to do one of the most difficult jobs in sportsÂ—perhaps the most difficult. They probably weren't even asked, more like coerced into the job. It's a fair assumption that some of them, including Shannon Eastin, the first female to referee an NFL game, were opposed to the idea. Think about it; these people know what being a referee entails on any level. They are keenly aware of the abuse that the professionals endure weekly. Ed Hochuli can attest to that.
Don't think for a minute that these people don't have a clue as to how bad they are doing, yet, give them credit for trying. No, put the blame where it belongsÂ—squarely on the shoulders of those responsible for this in the first placeÂ—the NFL and the NFL Referees Association.
So, the pros want a raise. There's nothing wrong with asking for a raise; the worst that can happen is getting a big, fat no! But for the sake of salvaging the season, and maybe longer, there will be an agreement; the NFL will cave and give Ed and the gang what they want. They have no choice. Believe it or not, this lockout will hurt the NFL much worse than a player lockout. Given the choice between a divisional championship game or the Super Bowl, the NFL would rather not even play, rather than risk an obvious bad call by a scab referee that ultimately decides the winner. The referee that makes that call will be instantly put into the Witness Protection Program for the rest of his/her life.
Although the NFL has asked both players and coaches to hold the criticism to a bare minimum, don't expect that to happen. Ed Hochuli's blown call in 2009 during the Chargers-Broncos game almost brought the NFL to a complete stop, and Hochuli is considered one of the best in the game. Does the NFL really want to see the most important game in sports being decided by a blown call from an amateur referee?
On the table is an offer to add three full officiating crews. This will increase the total number of officials to 140. According to the NFL league spokesman, Greg Aiello, this would reduce stress, allowing for fewer games per official. Of course, the referees don't like this as it would mean fewer games and ultimately less money per official over the course of a season. Frankly, that decision should be left up to the referees; if they feel they need a break, and a game or two less a season, so be it.
Ultimately it comes down to moneyÂ—whether it is the amount of raises, or whether or not to stifle pension plans for anyone not grandfathered in. One thing is for certain: The NFL doesn't want to leave the outcome of this season or the players' health in the hands of a bunch of rookies.
By the start of the season, the NFLRA will have their new contracts; coaches and players will relax; and fans will cut their antacid intake by half. Now is not the time for the NFL, a 9-billion-dollar industry, to make demandsÂ—it can't afford to.