NFL officials lockout should be agent for change; put real officials in booth

Drew Brees makes a point to John Parry last season. (US Presswire)

The NFL and its game officials are butting heads over a new contract less than two weeks to the first preseason game. We are hearing cries of safety issues, sympathy strikes, picket lines -- all of which will disappear when the contract is settled.

But the league's problem is not how much officials are paid but how the game is officiated.

As far as this labor issue, the two sides will come to an agreement because they need each other. There is no other place the officials can make the kind of part-time money and benefits they make in the NFL. The league realizes there's no way they can really prepare a new workforce in time to manage the entire 2012 season.

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However, I do think the NFL is prepared to let a week or two of preseason games come and go with replacement officials if they must, but I doubt it even comes to that.

But when that settlement occurs, will the NFL have solved it's No. 1 issue when it comes to officiating? What I'm hoping comes from this labor dispute is a reorganization of how the NFL officiates games -- not only a big bump in pay for the zebras.

And in reorganizing, the NFL should take a closer look at a version of the college model and get the head official up in the booth surrounded by the technology fans see at home every Sunday.

Think how fast former head of officials Mike Pereira, sitting in the Fox studio, sees what happens on the field and lets the viewing public know what the rule interpretation should be.

We are well past the time of keeping total control of the game in the hands of on-field officials. And to think we are now going to give all of those hard-working people a big raise without considering a better way of doing business is a missed opportunity.

But even knowing that, there still is a strong faction in the NFL that fights the idea of change in how games are officiated. One owner told me back in March it might be time to look at the college model with more of an open mind -- and I couldn't agree more!

How would they do it?

Start by hiring 16 of the best officials -- retired or otherwise -- full time to control the game from upstairs. Since they no longer have to be as physically mobile as a field official, I'm in favor of putting the most experienced people we can find in the booth. Those 16 officials spend their whole week between games in New York working on response time and technical issues, as well as watching game tapes and examining case studies.

The NFL has a real opportunity to see the future right now and fix a problem that only will get worse as the technology lets all NFL fans see the truth before the field officials do.

In the end, the league should pay the booth officials big money and consider a modest increase for the field officials.

The reality is that it is too late to restructure for the 2012 season. However, this officials lockout, which happened as a result of a strike threat, should be the impetus for real change.

I would love to see the NFL do a one-year extension with the officials for 2012 and get a new program in place for 2013.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
 
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