It's not an accident that the NFL's 116-day lockout of its officials ended two days after the replacements' incompetence cost the Packers a victory over the Seahawks. The reaction to the blown call—fans were so interested in analysis of the play that the episode of SportsCenter that followed ESPN's broadcast of the game was the most watched ever, and there were a million mentions of the play on Twitter within 24 hours—not only was an embarrassment for the league, but also a wake-up call.
"We've been slow to understand the power of the new modes of communication and how quickly things can change," one owner said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The people who are in power didn't understand that you can lose your credibility literally overnight in today's game. They started to see that a little with this situation. I don't know that the end of that game was the only thing that got the deal done. But I definitely think it helped move the league."
Two days after Golden Tate was awarded the Touchdown That Should Not Have Been, the sides agreed to terms on an eight-year pact that was ratified over the weekend. Following is a quick look at what the deal means.
• Who won? The officials, in the short term. The league had said behind the scenes it would not agree to a deal that included pension contributions for officials. (Virtually all of the NFL's front-office employees have 401[k]-based retirement plans, not pensions.) Returning officials will continue to receive those contributions through 2016. Over the long term, however, the league won because it not only gets to do away with pension benefits after 2016 in favor of a 401[k], but it will also be able to add several full-time officials and create a pool of backup officials who could replace underperforming active referees. The precise process for replacing an official has not been determined, but the parameters will be decided by the league, with input from the Referees Association.
• Why is the deal good for everyone, including players? Aside from the obvious—the game is much better with competent officials on the field—the pact, which comes 14 months after the NFL and players agreed to a CBA that runs through 2020, ensures labor peace on all fronts for eight years. Sponsors, TV networks and potential new owners feel more comfortable investing big dollars when they know there's no threat of any type of work stoppage.