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NFL Lockout 2: The Refs

You get paid how much for 3 hours of work!?
You get paid how much for 3 hours of work!?

In a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." If he had been living today and was a fan of the NFL he might have said instead, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and after a tough loss fans complaining that refs cost their team the win."

Read the comments after any story of a close game and you're bound to read complaints along the lines of, "I didn't know they were going to have to beat the other team AND the refs," or "How much did your team pay the refs so they'd give you the game?"

Some time ago Princeton and Dartmouth students were asked to watch the film of their most recent Princeton-Dartmouth game and count the number of penalties committed by each team. The Princeton students counted three times the number of penalties committed by Dartmouth than students of Dartmouth did, and vice versa for Dartmouth students counting Princeton penalties.

No matter how objective we try to be our own views and biases will influence how we see things. This seems to go double when the topic elicits strong emotions like sports do for so many of us. Therefore it's only natural that we'd see penalties committed by the other team that weren't called or give the players on our team the benefit of the doubt. Even with the help of instant replay where we can watch a play in slow motion from multiple angels, we don't always agree on what the correct call should be.

More after the jump...

Recently the NFL locked out the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) and have begun looking for replacements for the 2012 season. No doubt a large number of fans will shrug their collective shoulders at this news and say to themselves, "Good! The old refs stunk! Can the new ones be any worse?"

Well the answer is a resounding yes. They could be a lot worse. If you don't believe me go watch some of the Pac-12 games from last year. I'm guessing the NFL had already hired the refs they felt would do the best job in 2011. I can't imagine locking them all out and starting over again with refs from the college ranks and other lesser leagues will somehow improve officiating. Probably the best the NFL could hope for is if they end up being about the same.

Like the lockout of the NFLPA last year, the lockout of the NFLRA this year has come down to a he said she said battle in the press. The NFLRA, led by Mike Arnold, claim the league never planned to offer a fair agreement. The NFL counters through league spokesman Greg Aiello that the NFLRA's plan from the beginning was to try and drag out talks until the approach of the season and then launch a strike, something Arnold vehemently denies.

In the middle of all these accusations and denials we do know the NFLRA was offered a 7 year deal that would include raises of between 5% and 11% annually. So a first year ref who earned $78,000 in 2011 would be earning $165,000 in 2018. While a 10 year veteran who earned $139,000 last year would make over $200,000 by the end of the agreement.

Considering it's not a full time job, earning a six figure income seems like a great deal. Most of them also have other jobs, not because they couldn't get by with what they're paid, but because they have so much free time on their hands. For the average American with an upside down mortgage who's also struggling to make ends meet, it's hard to feel too sympathetic for the refs.

However I also love the game of football. One of the reasons I think fans get so upset of bad officiating is because it can cause a team to lose a game the deserved to win. Watching Kyle Williams fumble twice and cost the 49ers the game was painful. But think of how much more painful it would have been if the 49ers lost because of a bad call? Then you'd start to understand how fans of the Seahawks must of felt after they lost to the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

What the truth really is and what is simply misinformation may only be known by those involved in the process, but I think it would be a mistake to think having scab referees won't hurt the game. If message boards were filled to overflowing in the past with fans complaining over bad calls, I can only imagine what will happen if refs from the NCAA, CFL, and AFL have to fill in. And really, when you think about how much revenue the NFL brings in are the refs really getting that much of the gigantic football pie?