NFL gets set to hire and train replacement officials for the 2012 season

Doug Farrar

With no current agreement between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association, and negotiations toward a new agreement proceeding more slowly than it takes Ed Hochuli to explain a holding call, the league has taken steps to put replacement refs in place for the 2012 season. We first reported this a few weeks back based on a story written by Alex Marvez of Fox Sports (with a few ideas as to who could best take the place of certain high-profile officials, including Mr. Hochuli), but things are getting pretty real between the NFL and NFLRA. The two sides had been negotiating a new agreement since last October, but the NFL's side is led by Jeff Pash (the league's King of Rhetoric) and Ray Anderson (the NFL's King of Minutiae), so we can only imagine how those sessions have gone.

"Negotiations with the NFL Referees Association on a new collective bargaining agreement remain unresolved and the previous CBA has expired," the league said in a statement on Monday. "Therefore, in order to ensure that there is no disruption to NFL games this season we will proceed immediately with the hiring and training of replacement officials.

"Our goal is to maintain the highest quality of officiating for our teams, players and fans, including proper enforcement of the playing rules and efficient management of our games ... We have great respect for our officials and in keeping with that view have made a proposal that includes substantial increases in compensation for all game officials."

The statement also said that regional training for replacement officials will begin this month. No specific word on where that pool will come from, but we can assume that there may be some former NFL refs involved, and perhaps some from the NCAA ranks. As long as the NFL stays the heck away from whatever it is the PAC-12 has officiating games, they might actually be able to pull this off.

The two sides will continue to negotiate  "under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service," per the NFL, but that's not how the NFLRA sees it.

From NFLRA lead negotiator Mike Arnold:

After only two sessions with a Federal Mediator, the NFL today terminated negotiations and announced the recruitment of amateur referees as replacements. We learned that they sent out letters to potential replacements on Saturday and Sunday before we even finished our negotiating session with the Federal Mediator.

Additionally, the NFL's negotiators took fewer than five minutes to review the NFLRA's offer, which requested increases smaller than those the League agreed to in 2006, before walking away from the bargaining table.

It is now clear the League never intended to work toward a fair agreement, even through mediation.  There are no additional negotiating sessions currently scheduled. However, our organization's professional referees will continue preparing for the 2012 NFL season to the best of their abilities, despite the NFL's refusal to provide them with vital training and educational materials. It is unfortunate that as referees' responsibilities are expanded that the NFL would jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game by seeking amateur, underqualified referees to administer professional games.

And if that sounds very much like the statements the NFLPA put out during the 2011 lockout ... well, the NFL Players Association would most likely agree. Its Monday statement:

The NFL Players Association is concerned about the NFL's decision to lock out professional referees and recruit scabs to serve as referees in NFL games for the 2012 season.

In 2011, the NFL tasked officials with increased responsibilities in protecting player health and safety, and its search for scabs undermines that important function.

Professional athletes require professional referees, and we believe in the NFL Referees Association's trained first responders. The NFLPA will continue to monitor the league's actions in this situation.

With all due respect for the need to flag-wave in any labor negotiation, it's a little different with NFL officials. They don't work full-time, many have made serious money in other endeavors, such as law and insurance, and it isn't as if the quality of officiating has drastically increased in the last few years. Between Hochuli's windiness, Mike Carey's penalty clusters in the name of facetime, the immortal Jeff Triplette, and the wild swings in penalty numbers between crews in general, the league's current officials may need "scabs" to come in and actually prove that their expertise is truly irreplaceable. When you're Aaron Rodgers or DeMarcus Ware, the argument is quite a bit easier to make.

In other words, the refs don't have much leverage until and unless their replacements mess everything up, and both sides know it.