There's too much hand-wringing over the lockout of NFL referees. The biggest reason: Do you think there are many people in this country willing to give up a part-time job that pays six figures and doesn't require a unique set of skills aside from experience?
An appreciation for the job needs to be stated. Perhaps it can prevent a long-winded message from Ed Hochuli. It's a thankless occupation and always will be. I did it at the high school level for a while in my 20s and that was more than enough grief. But don't pretend that the guys who wear stripes in the NFL (or game officials in any sport, for that matter) are irreplaceable.
The league proved that Wednesday after announcing it will use replacement referees for Week 1, including the season-opener on Sept. 5 between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. In a memo sent to all 32 teams, the NFL said it would rely on replacement officials "as much of the regular season as necessary."
The job of NFL ref doesn't require that anyone jump higher, run faster or be stronger than somebody else. It requires a basic knowledge of the rules and ability to react quickly. That's it. And while the replacement refs are currently a far cry from their counterparts, they will get better with experience.
When was the last time you went to a game and said, "Boy, that officiating was great"? You might occasionally say, "Good call, ref." But it's likely the guy sitting 10 rows up hated that same call.
The argument that NFL owners are messing with the integrity of the game in their summer-long negotiation with the NFL Referees Association is laughable. Like anything, the negotiations are about money. No more, no less.
In 2011, according to the NFL, the average ref made $149,000. The average starting salary was $78,000. Under the proposal the NFL has given, those numbers will rise to $189,000 on average and $165,000 to start by 2018. It's not what the officials want, but it's still damn good money. Particularly for a job that requires you to work roughly 20 games in the season and a few weeks in the offseason. Generally, a ref leaves his house on Saturday morning and is home late Sunday night, if not Monday morning. Again, this is a part-time job.
Most NFL officials have full-time jobs. Hochuli is a lawyer. Former ref Bill Carollo spent 30 years at IBM. Mike Carey, who is perhaps the best official in the NFL, owns his own snow sports apparel company. Being an NFL official is a second job, an elaborate hobby. With the kind of money they’re making, NFL officials far out-earn people like police officers, firefighters and even some NFL players.
[Related: Forbes' highest-salaried NFL players]
Don't blame the officials for not taking the early offer. If they think they can do better, there's no reason to sign immediately. That's Negotiating 101. But this situation should lose your sympathy after hearing about how the game will somehow seriously be damaged. To quote coach Jimmy Johnson's favorite sarcastic response, "Oh, please."
Don't think that NFL owners are reacting to those who say the game will be adversely affected if the refs aren’t back soon. The owners have played this stare-down game recently with people who matter a whole lot more to the game and showed plenty of resolve.
Refs don't need training camp to be ready. Which leads back to the original point: Refs aren't so uniquely talented that they can't be replaced. As much as everyone wants to see the best refs out there, the game won't be irreparably harmed.
Coaches will complain no matter who's on the crew. Fact is, the NFL is going to march on into this season. If that means that Hochuli, Carey and company aren't there beyond Week 1, so be it.
Fans weren't tuning in to watch them anyway.
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