Good of the Game? Nonsense. NFL Owners Gambled on Usual Hard Line Negotiating Style Working and Lost


Roger Goodell is sorry that you had to go through that, but wants you to know that it was short term pain for that old canard, “the good of the game.” That, more than any of the other stuff that came out of his mouth today, is the biggest load of nonsense.

Back when I wrote about yet another Roger Goodell versus DeMaurice Smith feud, I invoked the old David Mason song: “There Ain’t No Good Guys.” That’s important to remember here, when it comes to the negotiations between the referees and the NFL, there was no inherent right or wrong. If you could pay less for something, you would. If you could get more money for something, you would. Doesn’t matter how you dress it up. The market will dictate what is right.

The problem, and where the NFL erred, was in overconfidence in their typical negotiating style. The owners have been able to take hard line stances with players, and get some rollbacks in salary percentages (plus no curtailment of Goodell’s authority) because they knew they could outlast the players. They were dealing with a larger group of individuals with a wider variety of experiences, and a group more likely to show cracks.

The officials? Most have other jobs, most have had a longer lifetime to prepare and learn from life experiences, and most don’t have to worry about a 3 to 5 year window where they would be devastated if they missed a few payments.

Both sides to a negotiation have a “best alternative to negotiated agreement.” For the NFLRA, it was to sit back, be willing to miss a few checks, and trust that the replacements would not be adequate. For the NFL, it was to believe the public does not care about the officials, and any differences would be offset by a general public insatiability for football.

Before the start of the season, I wrote this:

"My thought: the officials should absolutely call the league’s bluff here. Public outcry about officiating will dominate week 1. This will be true because there will invariably be bad calls (remember week 1 with Calvin Johnson two years ago), and that’s true even with the regular officials, but the din will be particularly loud here. The real range of referees, much like players, is broad, where the replacements will not outperform the best but may be near the bottom guys. We will see more questionable calls, just like we would see more questionable passes if everyone started their 3rd string quarterback. The outcry, though, will be immense. Go ahead and start prepping the articles of outrage now. The NFL seems to be trying to squeeze every dollar. The officials, unlike the players, though, have longer careers and hopefully have planned for this. Also, whereas the outcry if last season had not started on time would have focused on the players to some extent, I think most will blame the league for not protecting their product here. Sit back and wait, officials, and let the NFL proceed with replacement referees. I don’t think it will hurt you in the long run."

It took two weeks longer than I thought, as it built up like kindling, and then Monday’s game lit the spark sending it up in flames for conditions that were ripe. The NFL guessed wrong. They lost. These officials guessed right–guessed that they could withstand a few checks until opinion swung forcefully.

It happens. But this wasn’t for the good of the game. That’s a load of bull, nothing either side did here was for the good of the game, it was an attempt to be a little better for them. The problem from the NFL’s perspective is they clung so strongly to their negotiation tactics that they didn’t see the bigger picture. They built the Death Star but left that shaft open, and if you are running the Death Star, you can’t risk disaster over a few more figurative pennies (seven figure pennies, granted).

Nothing today has made “the game” better. The officials have a nice gig, sure, and they got some more money. That, and a certain bull-headed stubbornness demonstrated by the owners, is as American as it gets. Don’t dispense sunshine where it don’t shine, though.

[photo via US Presswire]