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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Passive Negotiation

The NFL has concluded its third week of action. It has also concluded its third week of regular season action in which replacement officials have been employed to referee the games. The regular NFL officials are locked out until a new labor agreement can be reached with the league. The final play of the final game of the week may have ensured that the regular officials get what they have been wanting.


During the player lockout of 2011, the figure of $9 billion in revenue per year was offered repeatedly by the media as an estimate of annual NFL revenue. Recent reports have placed the difference in monetary value of the officials’ demands and what the league is offering at approximately $4 million. If the NFL wants what it gets for $4 million (out of a $9 billion pie), it got it.

Last night’s Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks was officially decided on a Hail Mary pass from Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to Golden Tate on the final play of the game to give the Seahawks a 14-12 win. What really happened is that Wilson’s pass was intercepted by M.D. Jennings of the Packers as Tate stuck his arm in Jennings’ chest after pushing off of another Packers defender, Sam Shields. Tate wrapped his other arm around the ball after Jennings landed on the ground.

The befuddled officials glanced at one another, then the side judge signaled “touchdown” while the back judge signaled to stop the clock, which typically follows a change of possession (such as an interception in the end zone resulting in a touchback). The play was upheld by instant replay (longtime NFL referee Gerry Austin stated on ESPN that replay could not be used to determine which player had possession, only whether or not the ball was caught). The game is over.


Going back to the beginning of exhibition play in the 2012 NFL season, there have been comedies of gaffes and errors by the replacement officials. There have been missed holding calls. Late hits and illegal downfield contact have gone un-penalized. Officials have delayed gameplay, with some games lasting over four hours in regulation, discussing plays and applicable rules. The NFL appears to have taken an approach that game officials are like interchangeable parts.

Last night’s calamity is prima facia evidence that knowledge matters, experience matters, and that the regular officials were hired into their positions over others for a reason. The regular officials did not have to do anything to earn their strongest bargaining chip to date. They just had to not be there.

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