NFL Reaches Labor Agreement with Officials, Damage Already Done



Replacement officials marred the outcome of a week three matchup by incorrectly awarding a touchdown. (John Lok/Seattle Times/MCT)


Replacement officials marred the outcome of a week three matchup by incorrectly awarding a touchdown. (John Lok/Seattle Times/MCT)

The National Football League (NFL) finally caved to public pressure this past week, reaching an agreement with the NFL Referees Association. The sudden and dramatic progress comes directly in the wake of an officiating disaster that dropped the Green Bay Packers to a sub-.500 record shortly after finishing 15-1. The new labor agreement makes several concessions to the referees union that were sticking points between the two groups prior to the overwhelming expression of dissatisfaction from fans.

For the first three weeks of the 2012-2013 season, the NFL decided to roll with replacement referees in lieu of the locked-out officials. What was initially unclear to most fans and even some analysts was truly how unqualified these replacements were.

Following week one’s matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, it was discovered that one of the officials working the game had also worked for the Seahawks during training camp, a conflict of interest that would have certainly marred the outcome of the game had the Cardinals not won. In week two, a similarly embarrassing mistake was narrowly avoided, as ESPN’s Chris Mortensen drew attention to the fact that a side judge assigned to the Carolina-New Orleans game was a Saints fan, as per his Facebook page.

As it turned out, week three of the replacement debacle was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. In the San Francisco-Minnesota game, Head Referee Ken Roan mistakenly awarded two extra challenges to 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh following the use of his final timeout. Again, lasting damage was narrowly avoided, as the Vikings went on to win, but the same could not be said for Seattle’s victory over Green Bay. On Monday Night Football, the Seahawks were awarded a last-play victory by virtue of what was called a simultaneous-catch touchdown by receiver Golden Tate. Upon viewing, it is extremely clear that the play was not only an interception by the defender, but that Tate had pushed off a Green Bay defensive back and that the game should have therefore ended on an offensive pass interference call. The touchdown gave Seattle a 14-12 victory, ensuring that the replacement referees had permanently affected the season in a direct and potentially lasting way.

In the week that followed, a labor deal was somewhat miraculously reached, with the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell even acknowledging that the Packers-Seahawks game “may have pushed the parties further along.” The agreement reached is the longest one between the NFL and the Referees Association, lasting for the next eight years. Provisions outlined in the agreement include the retention of current pension benefits for all referees through the year 2016, with a 401k plan being outlined for years following. Significant pay raises were included as well, scaling from $149,000 last season to $205,000 by 2019.

All in all, the commissioner’s and owners’ standoff with the union clearly imploded. The replacements were signed on through week five, and the league paid them for week four in spite of the union referees returning for the full slate of week four games. Thankfully, NFL fans can now resume enjoying the best product possible, without the interruption of extremely under-qualified replacements at pivotal positions on the field.