|Mike Carey says that officiating in the NFL 'is a completely different game.' (Getty Images)|
Last year at this time, the NFL owners and players were in the midst of a lockout. Twelve months later, the league and its game officials find themselves embroiled in a labor dispute. Unlike the players, however, officials have no PR machine to back their cause, no public opinion to sway, and no leverage with which to negotiate. At least not yet.
So when the league says it's moving forward with hiring replacement refs, the response from players and fans seems to be a collective shrugging of the shoulders.
Granted, people don't sit in stadiums or park themselves on their couch for hours to watch the refs, but for all the whining from fans, media and players about the officiating (and many times, rightly so), it could be much, much worse. Just watch any college game for proof.
During a recent radio appearance, Mike Carey, one of the NFL's most respected referees, spoke about what we could expect from replacement officials should it come to that.
“I think unquestionably (there would be a noticeable difference)," he said via SportsRadioInterviews.com. "You just don't walk out on a field and contend with that speed and size and impact and the complexity of the NFL rules. It's a completely different game.”
We agree wholeheartedly. Look, there isn't a week (or a game) that goes by that a fan doesn't complain about a blown call -- and sometimes for good reason. With replacement refs, expect the complaints to skyrocket.
As for what Carey would like to see accomplished in the coming weeks: “From my position, I think that all of the major league officials get paid pretty much the same amount, independent of number of games or how hard they have to prepare or when they work, because all of the seasons are about seven months long. So we believe that we should be — I believe, anyway — that we should be paid on par with all the other officials, especially (considering) that we're the wealthiest league there is.”
Which is pretty much the same argument the players could've made last offseason. Ironically, here's what one player told CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman about the current negotiations between the league and the officials. "They don't need the money," said a player, who earns slightly above the league minimum. "Some of those guys make more than some of the players."
One huge difference: NFL officials are part-timers. Almost all of them have full-time jobs (Carey and his wife are co-founders of Seirus Innovation, for example) and serve as officials on the weekends. Should the NFL's status as "the wealthiest league there is" be reason enough to give part-timers a raise?
For now, it's an uphill battle. The officials might not have much in the way of PR momentum in June, but wait till mid-September, when the replacements become the story from one week to the next. The NFL might not have reason to blink at the negotiating table, but that could change once blown calls mushroom out of control, fans revolt, and the league scrambles to make it all go away.
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