Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Too Big To Fail, Fails

The National Football League doesn't have an officiating problem, it has a culture problem....OK, OK. It does have an officiating problem, but that's not the league's MAIN problem.

The travesty that happened in Seattle, Monday night, is less a reflection on the replacement referees as it is on an organization that has become too big to fail.

I can't add much to what has already been said about Russell Wilson's game winning interception.  Golden Tate clearly pushed off and never had control of the football.  M.D Jennings picked the pass off.  The Packers should have won. They didn't.  They were robbed.  And such is life.

This game may come back to haunt Green Bay or unfairly help Seattle in their quests for playoff spots.  But, it's also just a Week Three game and there is a ton of football to play.  Both teams will have plenty of opportunities to overcome this officiating blunder.

The question is why are we here in the first place?  Why is America's favorite sport being labeled a joke?

I place little blame on the replacement referees.  I believe they are trying their best, but simply aren't cut out to officiate at this level.  I tried my best to be a great basketball player, but sadly my meager stature and non-existent vertical jump put a wrinkle in those plans.  Sometimes you just don't have it.  These refs don't.

The real problem is greed.

The NFL is slated to pull in about $9-billion this year alone.  The referees on strike are asking for changes to their retirement plan and a pay increase.  The officials are definitely paid handsomely already.  They make an average of about $150,000 for calling games on Sundays. That's a ridiculously good rate for part-time employees. The requested raise would bring that figure up to about $200,000 over the next seven years.

But, the collective bargaining deal that recently expired was constructed in 2006.  Believe it or not, the NFL has grown in popularity and financially by leaps and bounds since.  In fact, according to the referee's union, NFL revenue is up 50-percent in that time frame and is expected to grow even more when new TV contracts take effect in 2014.

Players are getting paid more.  Owners are raking in the more.  It seems appropriate that referees should, as well.  They are a part of the game and, from what we learned Monday night, a very critical part of the game.

Yet, it comes as no surprise to me that the NFL is playing it cheap, because it can.

Professional football in this country has transformed from a game to an obsession.  Struggling families find ways to justify shelling out $50 to park at a game they paid $100 per ticket for to sit in the nosebleed section.

Fans waste hours throughout the day analyzing and adjusting their fantasy rosters.  Television networks call it "breaking news" when a starting quarterback throws a pass that hits a backup quarterback in the head.

We are obsessed with football.  I'm no exception and it's disgusting.

It's also the reason Roger Gooddell and 31 of the league's owners (Green Bay excluded, because they are publicly owned) can continue to be cheap and diminish their own product and brand.

They know we football fans will tune in anyway.  We will gripe and complain about bad calls all week, but come Sunday, you better believe we will be at the stadium, or bar, or on the couch wearing our $80 jerseys, tracking our parlay bets, hoping a third-string tight end can manage a touchdown to help our fantasy team and, oh yea, even our real teams win.

We need the NFL. It's too big to fail.

Reform is needed.

Fans and players are being forced to accept an inferior product.  With the replacement referees, that's what is being rolled out on Sundays.  (Well, also Thursdays, Wednesdays, Mondays, and later in the season Saturdays, but you get the point.)

The league has compromised quality and its integrity to save a minute percentage of revenue. 

That's what happens when the powerful become too powerful.  They pull the strings and those below them dance.  But, if the show is unwatchable, is it worth it?

The NFL flexed its power muscle with its sanctions on the Saints Bounty Gate.  I actually didn't have a problem with these, because the league is pushing for more safety, so it had to come down with penalties that punish those making the game less safe.

But, at the same time it pushes for safety and quality, the NFL contradicts itself by proposing longer seasons, exposing players to more chances of getting hurt.  It also has been slow to assist those who built the league with post-career health care.  And now, it is opening players to danger with officials who don't have a firm understanding of the rules and are determining outcomes of games.

Despite the public outcry to end the referees lockout, the NFL has little incentive to do so.  Why? Because fans keep coming to the games and the money continues to flow in.  (Apparently, the final play Monday shifted as much as $250-million in bets in Vegas, WOW!)

Change needs to come from the bottom, because it clearly won't come from the top.  Players aren't going to hold out because of officials.  I don't blame them.  I wouldn't give up that kind of game check either.

The NFL has proven it doesn't have much regard for the quality of its product. It has us sucked in.  The NFL experience is not to benefit the fans, its to feed the pockets of those who run the show.

If change is to happen, it may be time to tune out until the league and Roger Goodell get the message that being too big to fail, fails.