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I rarely watch the NFL anymore. So I was surprised to hear people talking last week about the NFL replacement referees. Of course things really exploded when the final play of the Monday Night Football Game turned out to be a game deciding controversy.

When I hear non-sports oriented friends expressing outrage, well that interests me. So I started scanning the internet, Facebook and twitter. I found some general consensus of opinion.

  • Replacement referees are bad, “real” referees are good.
  • NFL management is crazy. The credibility of the game is being eroded
  • Just give the “real” refs whatever they want; the NFL has tons of money

What I didn’t see anyone questioning was,

  1. What is the “real” referee’s role in all this. After all they turned down the NFL’s offer. I was curious to find out what was in that offer.
  2. Might this be good for the NFL?

First off, there appear to be 121 union referees in the NFL. They earn between $70,000 and $200,000 for about a half-years work at 20-25 hours a week. For most, this is a second job. Supplemental income so to speak. They have a pension plan that projects to pay out about $100,000 a year for a referee that retires after 20 years of service.

Tell me, who gets a six-figure annual retirement check for 20 years of part time work?

The internet consensus seems to go something like this, “millions of dollars are riding on their decisions; they should be payed well.” Which in response, one twitter user mentioned that he works full time making life-and-death decisions as a paramedic and he only makes $30,000. Needless to say, he didn’t have a lot of sympathy.

How can this be good for the NFL?

The NFL revenues are driven by viewership. With all this chaos going on I’m pretty sure more people are going to be watching the next few weeks. Everyone loves to watch a train wreak.

It just might be the first reality TV that is — real.

Long term, the NFL will weed out the worst refs and continue training and replacing others. Eventually the screw ups will become less and less. No one in their right mind thinks there are only 120 people in the world capable of refereeing an NFL game. So at some point the “real” refs will realize that they are quickly being forgotten.

People will start to remember that they never really liked those old zebras anyway.

My prediction is the referees will settle for the current offer, with a couple of throw away concessions from the NFL. The current offer replaces, going forward, the existing pension plan with a 401k in which the NFL is willing to contribute at a rate of 10% of salary. Who gets such a generous retirement contribution these days? This, after all, isn’t the Chicago teachers union.

(Detailed facts are hard to come by since this is a labor dispute.  So if you find a better source that shows my figures to be wrong leave a comment and I’ll check it out.  In general I’m pretty confident the figures used are pretty accurate)