The NFL announced on Monday that negotiations with the official’s union had broken down and that they would begin hiring “replacement officials.” As an official in training, I see no cause for alarm.
This isn’t like bringing in replacement players, who weren’t good enough to make the NFL to start with, this is promoting PROFESSIONAL officials from lower ranks, who were up for consideration before the lockout. The unions, both players and officiating, have characterized them as amateur officials…Amateurs don’t get paid, these men, and yes women, that will be considered are all currently employed as officials for the NCAA. They work some of the biggest games of the year each week in the top conferences in the NCAA, to categorize them as amateurs is a pure insult.
The real sadness in this situation is the fact that a union even exists for the officials. I personally have spent time with ex-NFL officials and they all speak of the pride they took in being chosen to work in the NFL. After years of toiling in the pee wee leagues, and then High School, and then Junior College, and then the NCAA. (Throw in some semi-pro ball along the way too) The pay was secondary, if that high. The NFL has always looked to hire men who had other high paying rewarding careers, and did this as a passion. They got to travel the country, spend time with the great athletes of the NFL, and do something rewarding to them. They show off with pride their flip coins and rings from the Big Games they did. They were accountants, lawyers, and many employed in law enforcement. My association is populated by many current and former Marines, and they enjoy the work they do very much, as do I.
This shouldn’t be about money, but the only way a union can stay important is to ask for something, and if the officials get a raise…I guarantee the Union dues will rise and the Union leaders will all get a big fat bonus and raise also. Of course television plays a big role in this too. The NFL and NCAA have taken up strict regulations on the appearance of the officials. We have all been asked to lose weight, and look the part more. This has led to the hiring of younger officials such as Clete Blakeman, a very young man to be a Head Referee in the NFL. If the NFL and NCAA are forced to hire younger and younger, then these men will need to treat it like a first career, and not a second or third. Unfortunately, the one thing you can’t teach is experience, so while the officials might LOOK better, they won’t necessarily perform better.
I think this gets resolved the usual way union negotiations get resolved…about two days AFTER the drop dead date. The NFL will ultimately come out ahead. They will keep some of the replacement officials and “retire” some of the hangers on. The Union will claim a great victory no matter what the outcome, and the lawyers will all get paid big money. The fans? We will get younger, fit officials, with young families….that are learning on the job. But every good official will tell you, “I may have seen a lot, but I haven’t seen everything.”
I just wish money wasn’t the driving force behind why they want to do it.