With the NFL now saying that replacement referees will at least work the first week of the regular season if not longer, the impasse between the league and its’ locked out officials has taken its most serious and absurdly unnecessary turn.

I’m still trying to figure out what is the point of the NFL taking such a hardline against its referees.  What is the league trying to prove?  The referees have the most critical front line role in enforcing the rules and integrity of the sport, as well as ensuring players’ safety on the field.

The job the replacement referees have done during this preseason has been uneven at best.  Many of the replacement referees are still unfamiliar with the nuances and differences between the leagues they’ve formerly worked and the NFL, as well as the speed of the game itself, which has resulted in numerous missed calls and general indecision.

From where I sit it seems the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell, would rather devalue the sport than reach a deal, just to make a point with its smallest and least expensive bargaining unit.

The NFL Referees Association contends that the NFL has adopted a “take it or leave it” posture, which of course is the whole point of a lockout.

At first glance it seems that an agreement between the two sides shouldn’t be difficult to reach.

At issue: The NFL wants to add three additional crews, which would increase the number of officials by 21 to a total of 140.   The union though says total compensation for officials would actually be reduced with the added referees.  The league also wants to hire full-time referees – seven at first – a step which league officials say would over the long term improve the quality of officiating.

Technically, NFL referees are considered part-time, making between $100,000 and $200,000 per year.  And most have other jobs during the week.   And while the league wants to change that, the referees union says that pay and benefits would have to increase significantly, and full-time refs at minimum would need to be on par with other sports leagues like the NBA and Major League Baseball whose most senior officials make upwards of $350,000 annually.

Still, properly compensating a relatively small number of officials, whether full or part-time in a league worth untold billions is in no way a problem.

To my mind the onus is on the league to find a way to settle this and settle it soon.  Don’t forget this is a lockout, not a strike.  The regular refs did not decide not to work.

The referees union has the sympathy, if not outright support of the players, with NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith saying this week that the players would consider striking rather than go into the regular season without the regular referees.

Players are extremely concerned about safety and believe the veteran referees are much better suited than their inexperienced replacements to ensure players’ well-being.

I just don’t see how Commissioner Roger Goodell can with a straight face tell the public that the league is doing all it can to protect players and present the best officiated games possible to its millions of fans, when it locks out its most experienced referees.  And chooses instead a motley collection of officials cobbled from high school, college and semi-pro ranks.

This is a no-brainer.  Make a deal NFL.  And do it now. Continuing this foolish hardline stance makes no sense at all and contradicts everything the league claims it stands for.

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