Striking Refs and Nasty Ol’ Owners

After last nights Monday Night Football game, due to some really terrible calls (and this after a weekend of really terrible calls) , one of which cost the Packers a win, there has arisen a shrieking chorus of calls to “bring the refs back”- basically, at any cost and on any terms. In the spirit of clear thinking, let’s look at what the argument is all about.

Refs side: Refs currently make around $149,000 a year for about six months work- they all have other jobs. Ed Hochuli is a lawyer. Scott Green runs a D.C. lobbying firm. They also have film and rules study in the off-season, and many travel to the preseason games to keep their skills up, so there is a contention that it is in fact a full-time job but treated as part-time. They also want to keep their current pension plan instead of the 401k the NFL is offering.

Owners side: They have offered the refs a raise (no figure mentioned, but since the international average for fulltime refs is between $300,000 and $400,000 one can make a fairly good guess) but want to kill the current pension plan and move the refs to a 401k-based plan that would not leave the NFL as exposed to the vagaries of the economy. They also have proposed making the refs full-time and adding 21 members to the staff to bring in new blood. They also want to be able to review refs on performance on a game-by-game basis, with the power to sit them down if they do not reach an acceptable level.

My take: Per Michael Schotty, an “NFL National Lead Writer” (whatever the hell that is),

The actual dollars-and-cents difference between the NFL and its officials is a problem smaller than both sides would admit. The biggest reason they have not come to an agreement is both sides have been trying to gain leverage and have not done enough negotiating to put forth a good-faith effort.

That’s probably true, and it also misses the point.

Everyone in this country is scared- scared for their job, scared for their retirement, scared of what the economy is doing, and it’s causing them to act in frightened ways. Mention changing a pension, and the knee-jerk reaction is “I’m gonna get screwed here” and a refusal to consider any alternative. The underlying trust in our way of life has gone away.

Everywhere I see evidence of a generation- the Baby Boomers (mine!)- digging in- “I’ve got mine, if I can just hold out for another 5-10 years, I’ll have beat it and the rest of you can go to hell”. No matter if ways of doing things have proved to be disastrous in the long term- it’s what got me this far and by Gawd I’m not changing it- a sort of national ‘kick-the-can-down-the-road’ moment.

There’s also a natural tendency to look at those in charge and feel they’ve got theirs and they’re going to look out for numero uno so why shouldn’t I, and when someone like NFL Commissioner Goodell makes around $10,000,000 a year it’s not unreasonable for folk to feel they want a piece of that pie too.

So we have the present mess in the NFL- which I think is also symptomatic of what’s happening all around this country today, most recently in Indiana and Chicago but not confined to there.

So what’s the answer? I have no clue. We all grew up with a certain set of assumptions about how things were supposed to work in this country and, one by one, they’ve all become ‘no longer operative’. One thing I’m really sure of- no matter what happens with the ref lockout, or even the election, I can guarantee the next few years are going to be interesting- in the Chinese curse sense of the phrase.