Why the NFL is Refusing to Pay Its Refs

hen the Detroit Lions take the field Sunday they, like every other team in the National Football League, will be playing a game overseen by scabs.

Those scabs are the replacement referees who were brought in to officiate because the NFL was unable to come to an agreement with its referees union. Most football fans know this, but what is the dispute really about?

According to the Boston Herald, the dispute is about money and comparatively not that much of it. In question is “about $62,500 per team per year over the next seven years, give or take, emphasis on the take.” It’s important to look at the replacement referees scandal through the right lens.

First, this isn’t a strike-it’s a lockout.

As anyone in a labor union understands, the referees aren’t refusing to show up for work, they are not being allowed to work. This is a sad display from a league making $8 billion a year with 20 franchises worth more than $1 billion and an average franchise worth of $1.1 billion.


In addition to refusing to pony up on the laughable $62,500 for officials, team owners are attacking referees pensions, according to Mike Arnold, the NFL Referees Association’s counsel. Arnold told the Associated Press that the league “intends to freeze and terminate the officials' pension plan and offered salary increases lower than those obtained in the 2006 agreement.”

NFL referees are 119 part-time employees who make $8,000 a week and most even hold other jobs, in addition to their work with the league. Sources say the refs were offered a seven-year deal that included increases of between 5 percent and 11 percent in wages per year.

First-year officials who made an average of $78,000 in 2011 would earn more than $165,000 by the end of the new agreement. A 10-year veteran in 2011 who made $139,000 would get more than $200,000 in 2018.

That sounds like a pretty good living, but remember that officials aren’t guaranteed 18 games a year and they’re an invaluable part of the cog that powers the $8 billion a year machine. That $165,000 a year would come with no pension plan and is still less than anyone on a 53-man NFL roster makes, even guys who are third and fourth on the depth chart.

Jeff Macgregor of ESPN.com points out just how ludicrous the NFL’s position to lock out its officials is:

“If Roger Goodell and the NFL and the NFL owners were serious about player safety and player conduct, for $50 million a year-less than 1 percent of total revenue-they could hire 200 well-trained full-time officials at $250,000 each.”

This from a league supposedly so concerned with player safety that it has rewritten its rule book, started doling out draconian fines for what used to be considered tackling and donated $30 million to the National Institute of Health to further study the effects of brain injuries.

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