Replacement referees finally pack their bags
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell knew his league was the laughingstock of the nation on Sept. 24.
The "Fail Mary" that ended the three-week experiment of replacement referees had arguably become the worst call ever made in a professional sporting event. To make matters worse, it had come on the biggest national stage possible-Monday Night Football.
"We're sorry to have to put fans through that. Sometimes you have to go through something like that in the short term for the right agreement for the long term," said Goodell in an official statement the next morning.
These striped villains stepped into a high-profile spotlight with little to no experience officiating on a football field. Some of the same officials that were denied jobs in the Lingerie Football League had been allowed to officiate professional games. With resumes as bare as a high school freshman's, these everyday citizens were thrown into games with almost nothing to consider them credible.
And rather predictably, exactly what we feared was going to happen did happen. The penalties, skirmishes, and blown calls that resulted from these inexperienced fill-ins caused a brutal hit to the game's integrity.
The administration and control of the game had vanished.
While the damage cannot be reversed, the replacement referees are back where they belong-anywhere but the NFL. Last Thursday, around midnight, the NFL and the referee's union (NFLRA) reached an eight-year deal that guarantees pay increases each season.
Officials are set to make $149,000 in 2012 and will earn a salary of $173,000 by next season. In 2019, the final year of the contract, NFL referees will be making $205,000. Not too bad for a second job.
To put this into perspective, the NFL pulled in $9.3 billion in revenues in 2011. The average player makes $1.9 million a year playing in the league.
These veteran referees are put under similar pressure, a similar spotlight, and on the same football field as these millionaire players. Now, thanks to the NFLRA lockout and three weeks of miserable officiating, it's much more transparent to see just how difficult and important this job actually has become in our critical society.
Despite the increasing revenues being brought in each and every year by the most lucrative professional sports league in the world, the league found money rather than integrity to be the top priority. The NFL finally caved in after the finger was pointed at them by nearly every sports fan in the country.
Referee field entrances received better reception from home crowds than most teams did in their return last week. Fans made it clear to the officials that they recognized how hard their expertise was to replace.
To say it was a perfect return for the referees, however, would be a stretch, as we saw in yet another controversial Packers' game. While it is hard to swallow sometimes, fans will have to realize that blown calls and questionably thrown penalty flags will always be a part of this game.
The NFL referee salary raise is a result of three invaluable traits that no checkbook will ever be able to buy: administration, control of the game and experience. While many of them will never fit the idealistic model of the perfect referee we so badly desire, these veteran referees offer so much more than any Foot Locker employee-turned-official ever could.
Congratulations on a well-deserved payday.
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