Bite-size nuggets: Pontificatin’ on officiatin’

Happy Monday, friends.  As I did my morning commute today, I was thinking about bad officiating and the lockout of the real NFL officials.  Since I got so much practice analyzing labor actions last year, and since I’m trying to serve up some bite-size hors d’ oeuvres (pronounced “whores divorce” in my best Andrew Dice Clay voice) I decided to scribble some thoughts in purple crayon for y’all.

First things first – the officiating has been atrocious in every preseason NFL game I’ve seen.  They’ve been getting a lot of stuff wrong, from spotting the ball, to speaking into a microphone, to being able to see the game at the speed at which it’s played.

It’s a mess, and it’s not these underqualified officials’ fault, really.  Mark my words: If they’re still officiating games come the regular season, they’re going to negatively affect playoff positioning.

The question is whether the evident suckitude of the officiating gives the locked out refs any leverage.  I initially thought it might, but it seems like it isn’t having that effect.  The dynamics in play are clearly pretty different than they were with the players.

If you have no players, there can be no games, at least none that anybody will pay money to watch.  That caused owners some financial pain, if not as much as it did players.  That created a mutual interest, posturing aside, to get a deal done.  You can’t replace players and put an acceptable product on the field.

I’m starting to think that, in the grand scheme, you can replace game officials and put an acceptable product on the field.  It won’t be acceptable to me, or maybe to you, but to the Joe Six-pack casual fan, it won’t matter that much.  They already hate the refs, and it doesn’t matter which specific person is there speaking into a microphone.  If their team lost, and it was at all close, it was often because the refs screwed them.  To these kind of fans, and to the fantasy-focused types as well, officiating is a fungible activity.  One dude in stripes is materially indistinguishable from, and substitutable for, another guy in stripes.  There’s still an opportunity to drink beer, and there will still be stats feeding into the fantasy site, after all.  The NFL gets a lot more money from those kinds of people than they do from people like me.

It seems that the media has been cowed to tread really lightly on the topic of replacement officials, too, which also helps the NFL.  Watch any game, and you’ll hear very little talk about how the NFL is failing its fans by putting these unqualified fools on the field.

There also isn’t very much talk about how doing so jeopardizes player safety, which it clearly does.  Game officials are largely being asked to be the primary enforcer of the enhanced safety rules, and the dudes out there can’t even get the ball spotted right.

The primary issue driving the lockout seems to be that the NFL wants to screw the officials in their retirement plans.

Unlike most Americans, NFL officials have a defined-benefit pension plan, which means that the NFL has agreed to pay them a specific amount upon retirement.  Before you say their standard of living should be lowered to meet yours, how about considering for a moment whether yours should be improved to match theirs?  Or maybe you like the race to the bottom.

The NFL wants to move the officials to a defined-contribution 401(k) plan, where the agreement is that the NFL will pay a defined amount of money to the players’ plans, but it’s the employees who bear the market risk, not the employers.  The plan will pay out what’s there to be paid out, and if you lose all your money in another Wall Street disaster, it sucks to be you.

In the Great Recession, it wasn’t the rich who lost their asses, by and large; it was the poor and middle class.

Americans started taking this screwing in the 1980s, where the idiotic idea became popular that people should all happily accept lower qualities of life so that the wealthiest among us can squeeze more and more profits out of the companies in which they hold equity, and pay less and less taxes.  This was accomplished largely by convincing people who are never going to be wealthy that they someday would be.

Don’t blame me - I was just a kid back then. I didn’t sign up for it.

Now, in most companies, “defined contribution” means zero contribution.  You can feel free to put money into your 401(k), and enjoy a present day tax-deferral benefit on it, but your employer isn’t matching anything.  All because a bunch of people were tricked (and continue to be tricked) into voting against their own economic self-interest.

NFL officials don’t want to go down that path, because in 30 years, they’ll be locked out trying to prevent a shift to the elimination of any contribution at all.  Economic history tells them that that will certainly happen, and frankly, they’re kind of lucky to be 30 years behind the curve that we’re all on.  Unions have been better at resisting the acceptance of this screwing, and that’s why plutocrats hate and demonize them.  The NFLRA is just trying to hold the line for its people, as futile as it appears to be.

I look at the NBA, and I see an alarming thing, vis-à-vis officiating.  Quite simply, it’s awful in the NBA, and even beyond that, the officials act like they’re bigger than the game.  One referee (maybe Bill Kennedy) will have a clear personal grudge against a player or coach (like Doc Rivers), and it will affect the outcome of games.  The NBA denies it, stiff-arms any allegations of it, and says that their officials are the best in the world.  They’re absolutely not, but the media forgets about it, takes the stonewalling, and moves on.

Why do I, a casual-at-best NBA fan, know names like Bill Kennedy, Joey Crawford, and Dick Bavetta?

How is it possible that the Tim Donaghy situation wasn’t a massive, league-altering scandal?

How did David Stern not get fired over it?

What about half the officials in the NBA, who Donaghy says don’t call the games straight-up?  (He used knowledge of officiating tendencies to bet on games.)

The NBA stonewalled the media, the media forgot about it, and fans kept watching the games.  This could happen with the NFL if they finally say the hell with it, and name the replacement guys as permanent replacements going forward.  It’s within their legal rights to do so, and the lack of major outcry has to be emboldening the NFL toward thinking that way.

The NFLRA is going to get rolled, and I think they’re realizing it.

They're most likely just trying to minimize the damage at this point, like the NFLPA did last year.  While I think workers getting screwed by ownership is generally very bad for economies, this situation is small potatoes, so I am not going to put a lot of energy into worrying about it.  I hope for the best possible deal for the officials, and that an agreement is reached soon, so that this travesty can end.   At least I’ll have watchable football.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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