In an open letter, the NFL Referees Association has not exactly drawn a line in the sand with the league or the owners in their contract dispute. In fact, the tone is almost conciliatory as the group’s executive director, Tim Millis, outlines the issues, saying, “The goal for both sides must be to get back to the bargaining table immediately.” So far, that does not seem on the horizon, while the frustration and anger over the lockout rises among players, coaches, and fans.
“The NFLRA has remained willing to compromise in order to achieve a workable new contract,” the letter reads.
It opens with the words “Do What’s Right and Fair—for the Game and Its Officials,” and then describes the matrix of the game as “an ideal in which the best athletes compete against each other in packed stadiums, while millions of viewers watch on television.” It says the job of the 121 officials, the individuals who have been locked out, is to maintain “the integrity and competitive balance of each game within a three-hour time frame.”
After that, the letter addresses what the NFLRA considers to be the main issues, which it says go beyond salary and benefits. The sticking point is the contract’s retirement deal, the so-called “defined-benefit pension package,” on which it says the officials and their families “have made important life-planning decisions.”
Millis writes: “The NFL now wants to break the promise by eliminating the benefit [and] instead turning to an inferior defined-contribution plan. I call that plan inferior because the League’s offer would reduce their funding obligation for the plan by some 60 per cent and at the same time transfer long-term investment risk to [each official].”
Since the lockout began, the NFL referees have been replaced by mostly college-level referees, who don’t adhere to the same rule book. It’s made some of the games at best confusing and at worse a mess and contentious, as was evident in Monday night’s contest between the Atlanta Falcons and the losing Denver Broncos. Up until that game, a lot of football enthusiasts gave the replacement refs a break, but no longer.
“It’s clear we need the regular officials back, especially if we are concerned about player safety, as the replacements have little or no control of the game,” wrote NFL.com’s Michael Lombardi in his Front Office View blog on Tuesday. “The Monday-night Broncos-Falcons matchup represented perhaps their worst effort, proving beyond a doubt that we need to end this lockout.”