Analysis  

 

NFL, referees must settle labor dispute for the sake of the fans

The scenes of chaos flowed fast and furious Monday night, for once even more rapidly than social media's instantaneous appetite could possibly digest them.



» Carroll offers no apologies for finish | Watch
» Tate on catch: 'The refs made the call, not me'
» Rodgers rants on radio | McCarthy: 'Total chaos'
» President Obama tweets about locked-out refs
» NFL supports decision to not overturn TD
» League: Goodell didn't have power to change call
» NFL: Game should have ended on Tate penalty
» Darlington: Time for refs, NFL to figure it out
» Lombardi: Resolution needed in dispute with refs
» Seahawks' Hail Mary vs. Packers will live in infamy
» Packers angry after defeat | Vent on Twitter
» Packers fans protest at Lambeau | Watch
» Tate denies push-off | 'Hawks D sets up mayhem
» McCarthy slow to adjust | Mistakes enable chaos

Video:
» Refs award winning TD to Seattle | Wilson reacts
» What broadcasters said | Locker-room reaction

The gut-punched Green Bay Packers searched through bins of helmets to find their own, so that they could retake the field for a meaningless but necessary final extra point. Blissful members of the Seattle Seahawks paraded in celebration of what would soon be recorded as a 14-12 win, even if this perceived success would be marred in the hours to follow.

Confusion reigned. On Twitter. On television. On couches across America. It reigned deep into the morning on Tuesday, flowing furiously past noon, well beyond the early-morning conversations with co-workers over coffee.

Frustration built, too. It built and built, not stopping in the wake of the NFL's mid-day statement that would do nothing to mitigate the public-relations mess that had stemmed from a touchdown many believed should have been ruled an interception.

Should Seahawks receiver Golden Tate have been flagged for offensive pass interference? Yes, yes he should have, the NFL said. And it would have ended the game. Did Tate possess the football, as the referees ruled, for a winning touchdown? The NFL supports the final decision, the league said.

"The result of the game is final," the statement read.

So here we are, with nothing changed and nothing changing, no matter how much fans yell or how often players tweet about the outcome of Tuesday's unfortunate adventure. Instead, we can all only hope for two conclusions in the coming days, weeks and months.

First and foremost, as the NFL and the Referees Association continued to meet Tuesday in an effort to end a lockout that has placed replacement officials in a terrible situation, we must hope Monday's incident does not push the two sides further apart.

The NFLRA will surely attempt to claim its newfound leverage. And yes, the NFLRA deserves to use this situation to its advantage, particularly since the NFL has long stood firm in its position that replacement officials would not impact the integrity of the game. Never in a 12-hour period has the worth of an official risen so drastically. Hopefully, for the sake of the fan, that value hasn't increased beyond reasonable means.

Hopefully, for the sake of the fan, the referees don't demand helicopter rides to stadiums, pregame massages or game fees paid out in gold bars and two-dollar bills. Hopefully, for the sake of the fan, the NFL doesn't plant its feet in the ground, relentless in its efforts to push its most recent offer to referees.

After Sunday's negotiations, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said "the game officials made a proposal that was unacceptable in numerous important respects." The length of the deal proposed would not work. The economic terms were too high and the non-economic demands were too extraordinary, Pash said in a statement.

Undoubtedly, even if the public is presented with the most detailed specifics, general opinion is not likely to be swayed, not when the NFL continues to thrive financially, not when the product on the field is starving for those real referees. The NFLRA surely knows this. But it surely also knows the NFL won't easily budge when it believes its popularity will endure well beyond this short-term blip.

Is the NFL correct in that stance? It doesn't really matter what any of us think. It only matters what those seated at the negotiating table think. We must only hope they recognize that many members of the general public believe the integrity of the game was marred this weekend -- and the league will continue to be vulnerable to more such outcomes until the issue is fixed.

The second thing that every fan should hope for is also hugely important: That the Packers, hurt by missed calls, both admitted and not admitted by the NFL, do not suffer this season as a result of Monday's outcome.

We can surely survive one night of misfortune, as long as it does not get in the way of greater plans, like a postseason berth or a push for another Super Bowl. The Packers had been widely viewed as a championship favorite (though vulnerabilities in the offensive line might have some wondering just how easy Green Bay's path will be).


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For the sake of the game, let's hope the league finds labor peace with the referees before this issue impacts anything else. Let's hope a deal gets done and the Packers either make the playoffs without incident or miss them by more than one game. In other words, let's hope the Packers' fate is ultimately decided only by the players.

After all, in football, there are two groups of people who should never decide the outcome of a season or a game: long snappers and referees. After an ugly 12 hours that will not soon be forgotten, ending a game with a botched snap never sounded quite so nice.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.

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