A few days ago, I had a theory that the NFL wanted to make officials full-time and that it was a roadblock in the negotiations with the NFL Referees Association. The union referees have been replaced by the NFL until a collective bargaining agreement can be reached.
Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter of ESPN are reporting that the full-time officials’ issue is a major snag. The two notable hang-ups in the negotiating process are:
- The NFL would like its on-field officials to be full time. Officials have traditionally been part-time employees, with 90 percent of the officials working jobs unrelated to football. Referees don’t want to give up that income.
- The NFL wants to add three additional officiating crews. The goal would be to give officials added rest and the league more options. The locked-out officials are opposed to increasing their roster.
On the surface, it seems like the above proposals are reasonable and even advantageous to the officials. Who wouldn’t want to be a full-time employee of the NFL? Well, many of the current NFL officials are successful businessmen who are independently wealthy. Mike Carey co-owns a ski equipment company, Ed Hochuli is a successful lawyer, and the Steratore brothers (referee Gene and back judge Tony) own a sanitary supplies business. Many other officials are investment brokers, entrepreneurs, salesmen, and educators. Would Carey, Hochuli, and the Steratores have to divest themselves of possible seven-figure incomes? Even if officials aren’t independently wealthy, they can supplement their off-field salary with their NFL officiating salary to make a nice living. Would the full-time salary of an NFL official make it affordable for the officials to quit their “day job?”
Why would the NFLRA oppose an expanded roster? My take is that the officials don’t want added competition for playoff assignments and job security. Under the current roster, officials have to beat out 15 other referees, umpires, side judges, etc., for the Super Bowl (the Super Bowl officials from the prior year are not eligible). This adds to more competition for valuable and prestigious playoff positions. Also, if there are extra officials on the roster, it would be easier for the NFL to terminate an official and have other officials already on the roster ready to take his place.
These are serious, career-altering proposals the NFL is proposing to its current officiating staff. Once the two issues of full-time employment and roster size are solved, the two sides then have to negotiate working conditions, salary, benefits, job evaluation rubrics, grievance procedures, and more.
I fear that this CBA won’t be done for several more weeks and we won’t see the regulars back out on the field until October.