“After further review” – The last word on NFL Officials

Negotiation – ne*go*ti*a*tion (noun)

Resolving of disagreements

  1. the reaching of agreement through discussion and compromise.

Winners and Losers

Try to define either of the above terms in professional sports negotiations and you’re not likely to come to the same conclusions.  The term negotiation congers up the image of a cigar smoking sports agent arguing over the phone with a tense & pacing General Manager.  In fact sports are so competitive that even in the context of “negotiations” there seems to be winners and losers.

The top story in the National Football League surrounding contract negotiations in 2012 didn’t even revolve around a player or team.  Nope, primary focus for most of the first quarter of the season was on the NFL’s negotiations with the NFL Officials Union.  What appeared as if it was only going to be a “sidebar” to the 2012 NFL season became front and center after a “Hail Mary” pass on Monday Night Football sent the nation into a tizzy.

TV, radio, and Twitterville couldn’t stop talking about the injustice that was inflicted on the Green Bay Packers as a result of the incompetent replacement officials, and it was the horrific bungling of the final play of the game that eventually brought the League to its knees and forced a compromise.  Or was it?

3 Key Points

Three key points in the overall negotiation between the Officials and the NFL.

  1. The concept of a “bench crew” that would stand ready and replace any official or officials that were deemed not working up to the standards required of the position.
  2. The continuance of the current Pension system that would require the League to match any contributions made by the individual (official) into his/her pension fund.
  3. An escalating salary raise over the life of the contract.

What the NFL Officials wanted

At first glance the Officials’ demands didn’t appear too awkwardly unreasonable.  Certainly there’s enough money in the game of professional football to go around, and a raise to ensure the “integrity and fairness” of the game wasn’t out of line.

Most companies have pension plans set up offering matching contributions between employee and employer, and this had been a common practice by the NFL in past years.  The Officials were only asking to maintain what was seemingly already theirs.

The final point frequently becomes contentious between employers and unions when jobs are on the line.  It’s the very nature and responsibility of a union to protect the rights of their members and ensure the stability of their employment.

What the NFL Owners wanted 

The NFL countered with a need for flexibility to replace poor performing refs in midseason.  After all, players can be placed on waivers or “benched” for the very same thing.  The League’s focus was only to have the best and most proficient officiating crews on the field.  If that meant replacement then so be it.

Owners faced the pension question a few years back with staff employees.  Pension contributions were exceedingly difficult to budget for in an up and down economy.  It had been a requirement for clubs to participate in the past but owners voted for an option to opt out all together or limit future contributions.  Many of the NFL’s ownerships did opt out, as well as the NFL League Office itself.  The officials were asking for something that even full-time employees were not guaranteed.

Finally, salary is predominantly a matter of value.  What was it worth to the owners to have the best, most highly trained officials to oversee their games?

What the two sides negotiated

There were no winners or losers here, only a negotiation that eventually came to a compromise for both sides.

The NFL attained its bench crews and thereby ensured a system of credible backup and replacement when warranted.  The officials understand that they can be replaced in midseason for poor performance, but will receive the remaining salary due to them for that season.  Not unlike the treatment of veteran players through termination pay (salary guarantee for those eligible).

The current Pension system was extended five years and then will transition into a 401(k) contribution thereafter.  Those officials with retirement on the horizon will continue to benefit ,  and the owners get what they’re offering to the rest of their staffs afterwards.

Finally, the case of salary.  You get what you pay for.  Nothing was more evident from the aftermath of the Seahawks vs Packer debacle.  Did the owners buckle to pressure?  Perhaps, but I like to think it was just the result of good old fashion sports negotiating.

Give a little, get a little…and everyone WINS.