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National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell should have found a way to work out a contract deal with the union representing league referees before the season began. If he thought the league's bargaining position would be strengthened by locking out the referees and replacing them with poor facsimiles from Division 2 and 3 college conferences, he miscalculated badly.
What Mr. Goodell has done is prove how valuable the regular referees are. NFL games have been marred this season by incorrect calls, needless delays as officials try to figure out the right decision, inconsistency in penalty calling, and a lack of enforcement of rules intended to protect players.
The absurdity reached a crescendo during one of the league's highest profile programs, Monday Night Football, when on the last play of the game millions of fans watching at home saw two officials standing next to one another making different calls on a game-ending pass into the end zone, one signaling a touchback indicating an interception, the other a touchdown signal indicating a reception. The replay showed the most critical element of the play was missed by both officials, a blatant offensive interference, which if called would have ended the game with Green Bay defeating Seattle 12-7.
Instead, because the pass interference call is not subject to reversal on review, and because the incorrect touchdown call of one referee somehow took precedent over the correct touchback call of the other official, the TD stood and Seattle stole a victory 14-12.
This has got to stop. The league looks petty and foolish. It is placing at risk the highly skilled athletes that make the NFL so special. And it is doing so for relative peanuts. The NFL expects to take in $9.5 billion in revenues this season. The dispute with the referees over pension, compensation and benefits amounts to about $4 million, according to league sources. That amounts to 0.04 percent of revenue.
The players, the coaches and the fans are fed up. Mr. Goodell is now in a position of having to give the officials any reasonable demand they make. He gambled and he lost. It is time to fold. Get the real referees back on the field before this gets any worse.