Earlier this week, Gheorghe assembled a round table (it was actually trapezoidal) of experts in several fields related to the labor dispute between the NFL owners and the referees. We analyzed the issues, made predictions, revealed our hopes and outcomes, and pondered our place in the universe. We laughed, we cried, we kissed three hours of our life goodbye.
It's all moot now, but frankly, some of the guys made points interesting enough to post, anyway. Plus, there's a Charlie Wilson's War kind of ending to this that could be filed under "Things That Make You Go Hmmmm."
The G:TB Replacement Referees Round Table
Matt DuRagn: high school & college football referee; crimson nape
G. Chaucer Burberry: lobbyist formerly employed by the Department of Labor; natty dresser
Mr. Truck: irreverent blogger; opinionated SOB
Mike Shanahan: NFL coach for now; old yeller
Clarence: moderator; this is the only form of moderation in which he's ever partaken
Clarence: Gentlemen, thank you for convening on such short notice. Who needs a beer?
Truck: It has to be Guinness. Every other beer gives me terrible gas.
Burberry: Lovely. Do you have anything in a single malt?
Shanahan: Woodchuck Cider.
DuRagn: Another terrible decision, Coach. I'll take anything in a red solo cup.
Clarence: Dear Lord. Let's just get started.
Clarence: On a scale of 1 to 10, from what you've seen thus far, how would you rate the officiating by the replacements?
DuRagn: 6...mostly because of player control.
Clarence: What's the most fundamentally poor call you've seen?
DuRagn: Roughing the passer in the Green Bay game on Monday night... and most personal fouls that are NOT called - they have no player control in the game, mostly because I think they are star-struck.
Shanahan: Everything in the Rams game.
DuRagn: Stop whining. Your team didn't sneak out of town in the middle of the night or anything.
Truck: They call them zebras, but their performance sure has been spotty!!
Clarence: This season has been high on ridicule. Given that, isn't it sad Chris Cooley isn't on the team to take part in it?
Shanahan: Look, I love the guy. I didn't cut Chris Cooley nearly so much as I eradicated Rob Squirrel from the fan base. Have you seen the Saints this year?
Clarence: More than fair.
Clarence: One can assume the poor product from the replacements has strengthened the case of the locked out referees to the point where the NFL must submit. To what degree is that true? Is there a chance the NFL just doesn't give a crap?
Burberry: The public outcry certainly helps the refs, but the only true pressure point on the league relates to ratings and revenues, both of which are experiencing all-time highs. Ultimately, the NFL’s chief concerns relate to what they believe are overly generous and unsustainable pension contribution demands by the referees. The League sees the national trend in this area as it relates to public sector workers and some private sector union pension programs, and they are unwilling to go down a road they believe leads to financial ruin. Furthermore, pension benefits offered to the refs may have implications for future pension demands from the players, who now receive very modest retirement benefits from the league in most cases.
Clarence: If Goodell & Co. cave now, would that set a dangerous precedent for future negotiations? Do you think they might hold out longer just to reach an accord on "mutually agreeable terms"?
Burberry: If the league were not prepared to go the entire season with the replacement refs, they never would have let the season get underway. The league will not “cave” to the refs' demands. Period. I think the league would argue that replacement referees by nature invite much greater scrutiny, and that were that level of scrutiny to be applied to the normal referees, we would see similar levels of second-guessing and hand-wringing. Furthermore, at this point, I think the refs are still the party feeling more (financial) pain as a result of the lockout.
Clarence: Coach, how does this impact your game plan from week to week, if at all?
Shanahan: Shut up.
Clarence: People seem to forget that the "real" NFL refs are cursed more loudly with every passing year. Is the performance standard expectation going to be way too high when they return? Are they just setting themselves up for further crucifixion?
DuRagn: I think at first the "public" will relax on them just thinking that they are that much better, but they are still human and eventually a call will go against "your" team and the criticizing will get right back to where it was.
Truck: Crucifixion, one cross each, the line on the left.
Shanahan: Shut . . . up.
Clarence: What famous labor dispute does the NFL referee lockout remind you of? What high-end DC restaurant does it remind you of?
Burberry: There are very few famous labor disputes… everyone either cites one of the sports strikes or the 1980’s air traffic controller strikes. This reminds me of none of those. High end restaurant? The impact of the replacement refs does somewhat mirror what took place at 1789 when the “Clyde’s” restaurant group bought it out and took it over and many people felt the quality dropped off as a direct result of the long-time Georgetown institution being bought by a “chain.” In truth, the product there had begun to deteriorate years earlier.
Shanahan: [just stares viciously and gets redder in the face]
Clarence: An astute person on this blog commented that the replacement reffed games had the feel of Lord of the Flies. (a) Would Roger Goodell be Piggy in that scenario? (b) Please make another literary analogy for the referee lockout. (c) What are the chances LotF was the last book that "astute" person actually read?
Truck: Yes. I think the lock-out is more like Finnegan’s Wake. A lot of complicated nonsense that in the end might mean absolutely nothing. Good.
Shanahan: I'd say A Tale of Two Cities. The juxtaposed duality of Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay mirror the owners and the referees, the tragic ending harks back to Josh Morgan's gaffe, and the constant themes of redemption of resurrection can be spotted throughout this sad episode.
DuRagn: Especially when you yell "Jesus Christ" at the line judge.
Shanahan: Shut it.
Truck: A Sale of Two Titties.
Clarence: Definitely not.
Shanahan: I will fucking kill you people.
Clarence: If Hollywood does what we think they will and produces The Replacements II about this situation, who will play Roger Goodell? Or Ed Hochuli?
Burberry: I think Eric Stoltz has the appropriate ginger bonafides to play Goodell, though Phillip Seymour Hoffman might be a more inspired choice with a bit more gravitas. I think if he really hits the gym, Ed O’Neill could play Hochuli.
DuRagn: Tom Arnold as the commish. Larry the Cable Guy as Hochuli.
Clarence: Who's the best -- Markbreit, Seeman, Hochuli, or Cashion?
DuRagn: I am a little biased here, but you have listed all Referees....in truth, the Referee doesn't really do much to officiate a game...it's the other six guys. But since you restricted me to these four, I would say Markbreit...but he was earlier in the game. Hochuli has the advantage of more training, better training, and better technology for training. Like asking who is better, the 1972 Dolphins or the 18-1 Patriots (forget which year).
DuRagn: Hey, I went to William & Mary, the second oldest university that's in the Colonial capital of Williamsburg!
Clarence: What song that you have learned in your quest for 100 has the most parallels with this lockout?
Truck: Soccer has consumed my life so much that I’ve stopped memorizing songs . . . I’m doing this in between my two practices today while Ian is at piano. My life is absurd. Perhaps "You Don't Know How It Feels" by Tom Petty. It’s tough to make calls in front of 60,000 people.
Clarence: If someone is soulless and futureless enough to cross lines and ref these games, do you think they care that they are doing a subpar job and being ridiculed across the country?
DuRagn: I truly think they want to do a good job, but the game is over their heads in terms of rules, speed, and the fact that they know they are under a microscope. For most/all, this is the only shot they will have at the big time.
Clarence: Most players and talking heads are repeatedly insisting that "the integrity of the entire sport" is at stake if these replacement refs are allowed to remain. You're an English teacher, so answer this: What's that more of -- hyperbole, or, considering the arrest records and greed of the collective saying it, irony?
Truck: Eventually the replacement refs will become as skilled as the old refs, but it may take a while. so it might not be hyperbole right now, but it's a sliding scale. The integrity could return either way . . . and it's not life or death (or a child's education) so really, who care if it takes a while. I love that the oddsmakers are having trouble with the spreads because of this . . . a neat consequence.
Clarence: Mr. Truck, the only football you watch is Giant games, and even then only when it's convenient -- when you're not out grabbing salamanders, strapping your dog into Inquisition-style torture devices, and reading science fiction books. Does the drama surrounding the replacement refs -- and the allegation that it leads to more injuries, more in-game fights, and bizarrely controversial game results entice you into watching more football? Or do you see this level of soap opera-quality melodrama and histrionics all the time in high school, thereby precluding any piquing of your interest?
Truck: I haven't noticed a lick of difference during the Giants games . . . and I’ve caught most of every game . . . and I’m barely following this. I sat alone today at cafeteria duty manically drawing 7 year old soccer drills in an attempt to figure out a simple way to lure little kids into playing clearing balls out of traffic to a target.
Shanahan: Hey, soccer bitch, you do know we're talking about American football here, right?
Clarence: Matt, as a referee, are you rooting for these scabs to do well or fail miserably?
DuRagn: Don't really care. I feel bad for them because they cannot win. It doesn't matter how they call a game, it will never be good enough. Do you really think we are discussing bad calls more than when the real officials were in the game? I don't, but it's easier now to blame it on the scabs. Take the simultaneous catch last night in the Green Bay-Seattle game....that was really a tough call. Do you think the real refs would have called it (either way) and not been criticized to the 9th degree.
Clarence: G. Chaucer, What result are you expecting from this mess?
Burberry: I think agreement on terms will be reached before October 15, with the NFL getting 75% of what it wants. The general public and the sports pundits keep saying that “with each passing week” the NFL is under more pressure to cave. I think the opposite is true. With each passing week, we further normalize the replacement refs and the striking refs anxiety about their finances and concerns about never retaining their old jobs grow. 99% of NFL fans can name either one ref (Hochuli) or none. We could tell most NFL fans that we brought the old refs back next Sunday, and then still send out the replacements and no one would know any different.
Clarence: Mr. Truck, you were previously noted for siding with the players in labor disputes against the owners.
Truck: I was?
Clarence: Yes. You said the players would idiotically spend the money and pump up the economy, while the owners would hoard it. Whom are you rooting for in the NFL versus the refs, and why?
Truck: I must admit to being pro-union-- especially because it's in my best interest-- and I think America needs more union jobs. This is either going to be great for the union or horrible, depending on if the scab refs get their act together. Probably will always remain subjective.
Clarence: Do you know what I am even talking about?
Truck: No. Not at all.
Clarence: Okay, I'd say that about wraps it up. Thanks to each of you for your input, and now back to your miserable lives.
* * * * *
Well, within 24 hours of the round table, the league and its officials had resolved their differences. We won't take total credit for that.
I do think this was a misguided post-settlement quote that I read:
"The owners appear to have grossly overestimated their bargaining power and underestimated the bargaining power of the referees," said Richard Sheehan, a University of Notre Dame finance professor who specializes in the economics of sports. "Referees had the option, at least in the short-term, of not agreeing with whatever the NFL powers demanded," "The owners' arrogance and hubris led them to make a large wager that the referees' job was so easy that they could hire replacements and no one would notice. Unfortunately, fans noticed. If there was any doubt that the owners made an incredibly misinformed bet, the doubt was removed Monday night."Based on the comments of our participants, especially G. Chaucer Burberry, I tend to believe that this finance professor was dead wrong -- the league didn't think the job was easy, they just didn't care if the officiating was subpar. That element simply wasn't going to chase the fans away. And it didn't. In the end, it was the owners' arrogance and hubris that likely led them to settle; they didn't like being mocked and vilified all over national television and in every newspaper. They made the right bet, but they couldn't handle the public condemnation for doing it.
And that's one to grow on.
Truck: Grow one.
Shanahan: Seriously. I will slit your throat and watch you bleed.