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September 21, 12:00 PM ET
Chat with Andrew Brandt

Andrew Brandt
  (12:03 PM)

I'm happy to be back and making this a weekly event. Certainly at least through the season, we'll be coming to you every Friday at noon. We can talk news, referees, bounties. And I'll even talk about the NHL if you like.

Andrew Brandt
  (12:03 PM)

Fire away!

Dave (Columbus)

If the NFL offered the referees a defined contribution plan with a guaranteed fund option for grandfathered refs that would simulate returns of a defined benefit plan would it resolve that issue? Or does the NFL want to completely win this facet of the contract?

Andrew Brandt
  (12:06 PM)

Great question. You sound like you know more than I do about these retirement plans. It was interesting, I was on TV the other day with a representative for the referees. I said the refs were demanding a pension and he quickly corrected me and said they were trying to save what they have. Despite my phrasing, the refs appear to have made this a non-negotiable issue. Thinking in terms of a possible solution, I like your thought. The NFL makes some kind of allowance for the experienced officials and allows for the new officials to have a simple contribution. Frankly, I don't know if that will resolve the problem.

Andrew Brandt
  (12:07 PM)

One of the big issues seems to be the NFL wanting three extra crews on standby, which would, in effect, be similiar to having replacements that would serve as job security for the refs. The NFL wants referees to know they will be as accountable as players, coaches and management and subject to replacement if they underperformed. The referees have not had that before and are naturally resistent. In a nutshell, I think the pension is a huge issue, but I also think this is about the NFL trying to achieve a culture change with these refs.

Greg (DC)

do you think the other leagues are watching the NFL with their refs?

Andrew Brandt
  (12:09 PM)

That's a tough one because it's tough to compare to part time and full time. MLB, NBA and NHL refs are all full time, because of the number of games and it's a completely different model. However, along those lines, the NFL is trying to have a group of full time officials, yet they're not prepared to pay them similar to the other leagues' full time officials.

Andrew Brandt
  (12:09 PM)

The obvious question is what are full time officials going to do between February and August? I think the NFL would say the same thing the players do: train to get better.

Andrew Brandt
  (12:10 PM)

But in a general sense, back to your question, yes.

Joseph (Ft Worth)

Probably the minority but why should part-time employees have pensions?

Andrew Brandt
  (12:13 PM)

I think you are in the minority, but as people realize there are two sides to every story, they are more taking your position. The initial reaction people have to this dispute, the NFL has over $9 billion in revenues and why can't they throw another 30 million at the refs to make a deal. But when people are exposed to the entire negotiation and realize these are part time employees averaging 150,000 dollars, they can understand that it's not as simple as "pay the man." The NFL have many full time league employees and full time team employees who do not have pensions. That is part of the reason why they are unwilling to give into the refs with pensions. The refs have had them and they are in the current CBA, but the NFL says to the refs, as they said to the players, a year ago, the 2006 environment has changed dramatically and pensions are, especially for part time employees, a thing of the past.

Mitch (PA)

First off, congrats on your new position at Nova. Here's my question: Is there any, and I mean ANY, type of the way the real refs can somehow gain leverage, because it has become apparent that the NFL is not going to budge.

Andrew Brandt
  (12:14 PM)

First, thanks. This position at Villanova is hopefully another way I can lend my years of experience to add insight and perspective to students as well as readers and viewers at ESPN.

Andrew Brandt
  (12:16 PM)

Secondly, I feel your concern about this issue with the referees. I'll say this directly and it's not meant to be harsh. NFL owners did not get to where they are by negotiating lightly. They see an opportunity to create a better deal than they had and they feel the refs will eventually take the deal or something close to it. It may not be a negotiating style that fans or the refs appreciate, but it is one that has worked for them in other negotiations and is apparent here. As I've said before, they don't "need" the refs to not have pensions and take their financially position; they simply "want" to make this happen and they have the leverage to do that.

andy (cali)

andrew, how close are the officials to getting a deal done? i thank the replacements for trying but theyre in way over their heads

Andrew Brandt
  (12:20 PM)

They are and no one is disputing that. I was at the Ravens-Eagles game on Sunday and can not debate that they're in over their head. Even my two young boys kept saying, "Dad, when will the real guys be back?" If anyone in the stadium should have known, it should have been me and I have no idea. Here's the issue, Andy: we're tending to focus on the problem, not the solution. The problem is the refs are substandard. They're not prepared for this stage and it's not their fault. They are mere pawns in a negotiation, a temporary placeholder until the experienced refs get back. I have been impressed with the fortitude of the real refs. Including the preseason, they have missed 7 games and about 1/3 of their annual pay. We also have to note that they do have other jobs and that gives them the ability to miss more games than the players have. As far as a prediction, I have been wrong on this. I said Labor Day. I make this prediction with no inside information that they will have a deal in 2 weeks and be on the field in Week 5. I think when they start to get close to missing half a season's pay, there will be a meaningful move in their negotiations.

Andrew Brandt
  (12:20 PM)

That's my new and revised target date.

Brian Frederick (DC)

Andrew, thanks for chatting. Given that economists agree that blackouts have no significant effect on tix sales in the NFL, why do owners continue this archaic and punitive practice? Doesn't the long term gains of growing a fan base easily outweigh the short term gains of a few extra tix (if they even do that)?

Andrew Brandt
  (12:23 PM)

I think it's a great question and it's one I've nver gotten a satisfactory answer about. When the blackout issue is raised, the answer always comes back to protecting the live viewers and protecting the sanctity of filling up the stadiums. The problem is in some markets, that's just not realistic. I was in Green Bay for many years where ticket sales were never an issue. Like you, I grew up in DC, where tickets to Redskins games were sold out for years. But that is just not reality in several markets. The NFL has revised the policy this year to allow for a lower percentage and no blackout, but it is a complex policy that requires a different formula for visiting ticket revenue allocation, which I don't have time to get into here. At some point, the policy needs to reflect size of stadium and previous history of a market place so it can more accurately reflect what's going on in that market.

Marc (Malden, MA)

I've heard the referees have agreed that new members would be enrolled in a 401k, so it's really only about the current members. But do we really think, for the NFL, this is still about the pension? Isn't this about the league just wanting to win the negotiation?

Andrew Brandt
  (12:26 PM)

According to a recent release by the NFLRA, they've revised the proposal to only request the pension for a more senior more experienced group of the officials. But my understanding is the NFL is unwilling to do that as well. It's apparent the NFL is taking a hardline on this issue and perhaps due to the fact that they have employees that are full time on both the team and league side that don't have pensions, they are unwilling to do so with part time officials. The issue with the pension is risk. Ultimately, these negoations are about risk and the NFL wants to transfer that risk to the refs.

Bianca (Villanova, PA)

What role, if any, does the fans' frustration with the replacement referees play in this lockout? Is this putting any pressure on the NFL to reach an agreement?

Andrew Brandt
  (12:29 PM)

I don't think it is. I think the NFL decided to negotiate on this deal and the public pressure on the fans, the media and even the players and coaches is not influencing them. They know that the group of refs on the field now are substandard. They say they are doing an admirable job, but that is substandard based on their lack of experience. At the end of the day, they expect to make a deal with the refs soon and that deal will be closer to the terms that they want. As I answered the first question of the chat, these owners are about business, and some blown calls or substandard officiating in a few games is not going to leverage the other side against these guys. It's just not how they roll.

Andrew Brandt
  (12:31 PM)

Great questions. It seems to be a hot topic. I'll be writing about it more on ESPN.com and Tweeting about it as usual @ADBrandt. I look forward to being on here next week, same time, same place to take your questions.