Questionable Call Spotlights Ongoing NFL Labor Dispute

BY Frank N. Carlson  September 25, 2012 at 2:43 PM EST

Controversial Call on Seahawk TDA call on a last second touchdown by Seattle Seahawks receiver Golden Tate (81) leaves Green Bay Packers players and football fans stunned. Photo by Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

Union negotiations are again at the heart of outrage in Wisconsin, but it’s not what you might think.

During last night’s Monday Night Football matchup, Wisconsin’s Green Bay Packers met the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in Washington in what was a hard-fought defensive battle. In the first half alone, the Seahawks swarmed 2012 MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, picking up eight sacks; nearing the close of the fourth quarter, the Packers held a narrow 12-7 advantage.

Trailing, and with seconds on the clock, Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled out of the pocket at the Packers’ 24-yard-line and threw a Hail Mary pass into the back of the end zone. What happened next has outraged fans across Wisconsin and crystallized weeks of frustration for NFL fans across the country.

Two players came down with the ball — M.D. Jennings of Green Bay, and Golden Tate of Seattle — though Jennings appeared to have primary control, which would have ended the game in favor of Green Bay. Referees ruled on the field the two had simultaneous possession, which counts as a reception.

In a review, referees ruled that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the touchdown call. With the field goal, Seattle went up 14-12, securing their second win of the season while handing 2011′s Super Bowl winning Packers* their second loss.

Many say it was the latest — and greatest — in a long list of mistakes by the NFL’s stable of so-called replacement refs.

As NPR’s Mike Pesca told Jeffrey Brown earlier this month, for three weeks the NFL has been operating without its cadre of referees, after contract negotiations with their union in June failed to yield a deal on how much the NFL would contribute to referees’ retirement accounts.

Following games since then, fans, players, coaches and commentators have taken to the airwaves and to Twitter to voice their dissatisfaction with the performance of the replacement refs, culled from the ranks of Division II and III college football and semi-pro leagues.

On Sunday, at the close of the Patriots-Ravens game in Baltimore, New England coach Bill Belicheck aggressively grabbed the arm of a referee just after the game. Following last Monday night’s game, Denver Bronco’s coach John Fox was fined $30,000 and Defense Coordinator Jack Del Rio received a $25,000 penalty for publicly criticizing the refs.

And after last night’s call, even Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — renowned for his fight against public sector unions — called for the return of the regular union refs.

Much of the anger is settling on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Many wonder aloud whether it makes sense for the NFL — which takes in some $9 billion a year in revenue — to sacrifice the quality of its product for a mere $5 million at odds in retirement contributions.

Goodell’s sure to hear the frustration. Last night Wisconsin Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach tweeted out two of Goodell’s public phone numbers and encouraged fans to contact him with their thoughts.

But what’s not clear at this point is what will change. Pesca said despite the anger over the game, not one of the 31 team owners whose votes are needed to end the lockout have budged on the referees’ demands. And “until one of the 31 owners or a bunch do that, then it’s a lot of bother about nothing that will change the contract.”

Pesca also pointed out that the louder the criticism, the stronger the NFL looks for holding its position. And that’s true, up until it negatively affects the ratings and the bottom line.

Which, he said, doesn’t seem to be the case yet. “More people will be interested in the NFL after this thing,” Pesca laughed.

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*The New York Giants beat the New England Patriots to win the 2012 title; the Packers won over the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011.