Wednesday, September 26, 2012

NFL and Pensions for Refs ... The Business of Pro Football

It sure looks like the N.F.L. referees' lockout will end in time for this weekend's games. One blown call on Monday night sealed the deal.

For those interested in what Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton says about it, please take the time to read Pro Football Keeps Fumbling.

For our purposes herein, we'll focus on the reasons for the dispute --- pensions and employee evaluations. Sound familiar?

In addition to giving owners the right to evaluate and where necessary terminate unqualified referees, the main item in dispute is pensions vs. the adoption of 401(k) plans for current employees.

The refs have hung tough and probably received an unintended boost from the blown call by replacement officilials at the end of the Packers and Seahawks Monday night game. If so, that's too bad.

N.F. L. and Referees are Close to a Deal updates the story:

"The N.F.L. and the referees’ union were closing in on an agreement to end the lockout . . . . 

If the resolution is completed Wednesday, it will come two days after the end of Monday night’s game between Green Bay and Seattle, which was marred by blown calls by the replacement referees that have caused an uproar over the damage being done to the game’s integrity.

A remaining issue is how quickly the regular referees can return to work. There is a game Thursday night between Cleveland and Baltimore, as well as the full schedule Sunday.

The lockout began in June and centered largely around the issue of referees’ pensions, which the league sought to eliminate and replace with 401(k)'s. The league also sought more control over replacing officials it deems are underperforming during the season. . . .

The union has fought to maintain its members’ pensions and control over the makeup of their crews. The union has argued its pension costs (are) a tiny percentage of the N.F.L.'s $9 billion in annual revenue."

Perhaps an even better summary of the nature of the dispute is contained in Officially Horrible, appropriately subtitled 'Americans are slow to anger, except against lousy football referees.' Here's what it says:

"What could possibly make Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker agree with organized labor? Answer: replacement referees in the National Football League.

Like all good cheese-heads, Mr. Walker is appalled that the guys in black-and-white stripes managed to convert a game-saving interception for the Green Bay Packers on Monday night into a game-winning touchdown for the Seattle Seahawks. The Governor is calling for a return of the regular zebras.

The howling over this threat to the integrity of pro football seems to exceed in passion and intensity any of the current political campaigns. Many fans seem willing to pay for labor peace in NFL officiating at almost any price. Note the contrast to Americans' general refusal in recent years to meet the demands of government employee unions. This is perhaps a commentary on the relative quality of the products offered on the field and in the bureaucracies.

But even fans who want the NFL to open its checkbook to solve this problem might wonder what this fight is really all about. Last year the average NFL ref made about $150,000 for a half-a-year commitment that adds up to weekends, a few days of summer training, occasional meetings and conference calls and some study leading up to game day. The referees currently receive an NFL pension, which is the heart of the dispute. The NFL wants to convert the refs to a 401(k) plan, but the refs want only new officials to get that deal, while current refs continue to receive pensions.

Such are the riches of the business known as the NFL that Commissioner Roger Goodell will be under enormous pressure to cut a deal with the refs that includes the pension status quo. This will raise costs that will eventually mean higher ticket prices."

Summing Up

Employees should be qualified and perform at satisfactory levels. Employers have every right to insist on that. To think otherwise is nuts.

At the same time, the lack of qualified referees shouldn't disrupt or threaten the integrity of the entire league when the owners are unable to put competent referees on the field.

Accordingly, it is the responsibility of the owners to either not play scheduled games or have qualified replacements on the field.

In sum, it sure looks to me like the owners really screwed up this one. Big time.

Now the referees will win a fight they shouldn't have won, and the season will resume by this weekend.

And with the current referees' pensions intact, sending a signal throughout America that pension cost containment isn't really that big of a deal after all.

But as we all know, pensions are both a tremendously big deal and an unaffordable one in the public sector.

Oh well, maybe we shouldn't be too concerned about the private sector N.F.L. owners and their refs.

At least it's not the taxpayers' money that's at stake here. Just the owners, the refs and the ticket buying customers of the future.

Thanks. Bob.

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