The thoughts, musings, rants and observations of Barry Rubinstein, a longtime sports journalism pro now starring as a digital and print editor on the sports desk at the New York Post.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

NFL must end officials lockout -- now


Picture this: A company at the unquestioned top of its field, at the apex of success with its profits only forecast to go higher and higher with no ceiling in sight, decides to endanger everything it has built by waging labor war with a small but crucial department of its operation -- which just happens to be the gatekeeper of the integrity of the entire corporation.

Why would that company even think about messing with such a good thing just to save a couple of bucks? 

Excellent question. And it's one that Mike Arnold, the lead counsel of the NFL Referees Association wants an answer to, with the NFL officials lockout now expected to last into the regular season, which begins Sept. 5 when the Giants host the Cowboys.

"This is one of the perplexing things about why the NFL would lock us out," Arnold told USA Today. "Why would an organization with $9.3 billion in (annual) revenues expected to rise to $12 billion or $14 billlion in the forseeable future jeopardize the health and safety of its players and the integrity of the game by hiring scab officials?"

The amount of money the league and its officials are haggling over -- a $16.5 million gap in negotiations, according to Arnold -- seems like nickels and dimes ... if not pennies in perspective to the entire picture. But there's more:

The NFL wants its officials to become full-time positions -- a break from the current and past, as many officials have had long and successful careers in other fields. The league also wants to hire three additional officiating crews to allow the existing ones to take a week off here and there, with the possibility of rotating new officials into the current crews should the performance of individual referees decline. Not surprisingly, the officials' union is against all of that.

Arnold said the league also wants to blow up the officials' pension program and replace it with "annual contributions" the league would pay to retired officials instead.

But on top of all of that, and most important to fans, is how the games are affected on the field. And while there's only a very small sample size -- one week of the preseason -- it's more than enough to prove the point this nonsense needs to end. Now.

Mistakes and gaffes have been so numerous in just one week, it would be impossible to list them all here. Instances of penalties called on wrong players, not moving down markers and misinterpretation of rules have become tragically comical in short order.

At the conclusion of the Giants-Jaguars game last Friday, the Giants had the ball with time running out, trying to get into field-goal range for a potential game-winning kick. The Giants were called for a penalty, and under that scenario, a 10-second runoff should have been assessed and the game should have been over.

I -- and everyone else on the sports desk at the New York Post that night -- knew the rule. The commentators broadcasting the game knew the rule. But the officials, who huddled for several long minutes, didn't, and gave the Giants one more play. They didn't score, but imagine if they had ... and it had been a regular-season game against, say, the Cowboys ... on national TV.

"I actually heard one of the refs (say) he'd only reffed glorifies high school games, which I don't even know what that means," the Giants' Victor Cruz told my New York Post colleague, Paul Schwartz. "I just want to make sure (the officials) have the best interest of the players at heart and they know what they're doing out there, because there were a few instances where there were some iffy calls made and there were some things that were ... out there.

"Sometimes you could see them being a little flustered at times ... like they called a holding call on the returner when he was returning a punt. That was probably the most mind-boggling one to me. We just want to make sure we get the refs back out there and out there making the right calls."

Don't we all.

Then there is the issue of player safety, obviously a major concern of the league's rank and file.

"Everybody says the preseason is at one speed and once you get up to regular season the speed picks up and it goes to the next level," Bears punter and player rep Adam Podlesh told ESPN. "That is one thing that basically all these refs that are officiating our games haven't experienced ... That's the concern for the players: Are they going to be able to keep up with the speed of the game and are they going to make the right calls that are going to make the players feel safe?"

The regular NFL officials have, and would -- all the reason the league needs to end the insanity ... as soon as possible. 

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