September 26, 2012

Football’s Ripe Moment (aka The Packers Actually Won)

By Andrea Schneider

I have always liked well-known SAIS Professor Bill Zartman’s theory of mutually hurting stalemate as an explanation of when a dispute become ripe for resolution.  Bill has usually applied this theory to international disputes but, on Monday night, while watching the Packers win, I was able to see this concept applied to a different kind of dispute.  Zartman’s theory is that unless both parties are under significant pressure to resolve a dispute, the dispute is not “ripe” for dispute.  Sometimes, a horrific episode is necessary to move the parties to talks (often with outside pressure).  And while the lockout of the NFL’s refs had resulted in a slew of mistakes, there had not been such a public, obvious, blatant travesty of call until Monday.  As my eldest son tweeted, “After further review, the replacement officials still suck.” 

Not suprisingly, the NFL climbed off its high horse and resumed talks in earnest.  As I write this, ESPN reports the lockout is over.  I can only be glad that the Packer’s loss (at least as it is officially recorded although not yet acknowledged in this state) was sufficient to end the lockout and spare other teams the pain and loss that we have suffered.

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Comments

  • I am sure some of the original referees were dancing with joy when the replacement refs blew that obvious call. The resulting outcry from the $150 million gambling dollars that unjustifiably changed hands and 70,000 calls that were immediately made to NFL headquarters surely alerted the NFL that this dispute was ripe to settle. The refs likewise knew that they needed to strike while the golden opportunity existed.

    In fact, the union got basically what they asked for (kept the pension instead of 401(k), increasing pay, keeping the vast majority of the jobs part-time, etc). Now if only the future CBAs would be drafted to include that mandatory mediation will take place at least 6 months in advance of its’ expiration, perhaps through proactive ADR we could prevent some of these lockouts that now seem to be occurring with frightening regularity!

  • Courtney Hall says:

    There’s no doubt that this game and the fallout made the dispute between the NFL and the referees ripe for resolution, but it also made the entire game of professional football appear ‘ripe,’ just like stinky cheese. Avid football fans, especially those that follow the Packers, were left with a bad smell in their nose while thousands of people saw their hope of a big pay out dashed on a highly suspect end of game call. A mandatory mediation clause is definitely something all professional sports leagues should implement; it could help to keep the sport smelling like roses (or in many cases with the big four leagues, sweaty man smell) while also preserving the integrity of the sport.

  • Erik Larson says:

    These refs were pulled from the high school, junior college, and lingerie football league ranks. Call me a cynic, but given this lack of high-level experience, the NFL could not have possibly thought that the replacement refs were even remotely capable of doing the job all season. That’s like going to a go-kart track and expecting to be able to stage a NASCAR race with a bunch of 13-year-olds from a birthday party.

    The league might have been, as Zartman’s theory of a mutually hurting statement suggests, under significant pressure to settle after the “horrific episode,” but they are kidding themselves if they thought that they could do anything other than push off negotiations and get the replacement refs to cave before they them. In this case, their gamble didn’t pay off, and they had to give concessions before the refs did. We all see the refs as big winners in this case, but who knows – perhaps if the Packer game didn’t end the way it did, the refs would have given in before the NFL, and we wouldn’t see the situation the same way.

  • Katherine Thometz says:

    One of the most eccentric teachers I had in high school was a nun by the name of Sister Linda. Above her chalkboard, she had stapled a quote that I’ve only gained more appreciation for over the years: “All stories are true, and some of them actually happened.” What actually happened was that a Packer player caught the winning touchdown for the Seattle Seahawks. After the game, M.D. Jennings (the Packer player who caught the ball) said “It was pinned to my chest the whole time.” On the other hand, Golden Tate (the Seahawks player who basically caught Jennings) said, “I make sure I practice on high balls and catching balls at the highest point. Thankfully I came down with it. I was just trying to keep possession of the ball. The guy who was fighting me for it, he’s strong. I was just trying to hold onto it until our guys pulled them off of me. I didn’t know if they called touchdown, interception, incompletion. I didn’t know what was going on. Couldn’t hear anything and I just tried to keep fighting for the ball.”

    These types of conflicts are so interesting because of the different takes people have on the exact same event. As we’ve seen in class, how people frame their story can make all the difference in the world. Tate’s story is pretty incredible but I guess I can’t blame him for sticking to it.

  • Aidan Morrell says:

    When this lockout first began, I remember finding it humorous to fathom that the Referee’s union would honestly try to “strong-arm” an entity as powerful as the NFL. After all, these are referees we are talking about, not signature players. Their role, while important, exists in the shadows of the game and is easily replaceable… Or so I thought. After watching these games, I definitely gained more insight into what a challenging job this is. Clearly, it’s a skill that takes years to develop and cannot be learned in a month long boot camp. I have to assume that entering these negotiations, the NFL was thinking somewhat along the same lines as I was: that they (the NFL) held all the power and a referee could easily be replaced. I can only imagine being the Referees Union’s attorney and watching the season progress one bad call at a time, finally culminating in this horrific call that defeated the packers, while simultaneously defeating any leverage the NFL may still have had.

  • Christien Numan says:

    Although not a huge football fan, and an even less Packers fan (Go Lions!), I think this was “the straw that broke the camels back,” figuratively speaking. The NFL, as a corporation, and possibly one of the most successful entities in the United States, that truly brings people together, should use their power for good. Although, as @AidanMorrell mentioned above, it seems silly that such a power ball would let anyone strong arm them, they should know when to pick and choose their fights. Being in such a strong position yields the power to make good business, and legal, decisions in the public eye. I think the NFL really missed a great opportunity for the sports industry and large corporations to learn from. Negotiation is key. The NFL should have known, and quite frankly, I’m astonished they didn’t, that a game is only as successful as its “weakest” link – and in this case, the negotiators and attorneys were just that. The NFL’s backlash in this case is exactly what they deserved, however, they let fans down EVERYWHERE, not just in Wisconsin. How could such a powerful entity who has nearly every American watching in one form or another, be so selfish, as to only think about bottom line pricing, and not really think about the repercussions their choices have on the nation. I know this may sound silly, and yes, I think it is, but it’s the truth. The NFL gives men, and women, a way to to connect – it brings people together – it gets people away from “social media” and puts people in bars, restaurants, homes, etc. – it is an economy booster. People put a lot of effort into their “Fantasy” leagues, and for them not to see a return on their investment (so to speak), is just a shame. I think the only people who dropped the ball on this are the executives at the NFL, and I hope, in the future, that if an event occurs such as, what the execs believe is “minuscule” and “easily fixed”, they remember how this Referee Strike, and their unfathomed stubbornness could have been avoided all together, by employing a different type of negotiation technique, where the fans are the focus.

  • Let me preface this comment by saying that I watched this game from the perspective of a Vikings fan hoping that the Packers would lose. What I find noteworthy about this whole situation is that this is exactly the type of call that NFL fans were hoping to see. In the weeks before this game, it was apparent that the NFL would refuse to cave into the referees demands. This strong arm form of negotiation left NFL fans watching under-qualified referees attempt to keep up with the pace of professional football players. Though there were some bad calls before this (giving San Francisco five timeouts and an extra challenge in the second half of their game against the Vikings comes to mind), none of them had significantly affected the outcome of a game. In talking to friends just days before this Packers game, we agreed that what was needed was for a call to be so blatantly wrong that it blew the game for a team. We also all agreed that we didn’t want said call to go against our team.

    Look, even I will agree that what happened in the Packers/Seahawks game was an atrocity and an embarrassment to the NFL. The Packers should have won, and because they didn’t they are now in second place in the NFC North instead of first (as of Week 13). But because of the negotiation style laid out by the NFL in the previous weeks, this is the type of call that was needed to force the NFL’s hand. It is unfortunate that it happened to Packers, just as it would have been unfortunate if it had happened to any other team. The outcome of that game can’t be changed, but we can at least all be pleased with the effect that it had on bringing back the real referees.

  • Tom Haese says:

    As Kendall pointed out above, I recall watching this play call and instantly thinking of all the referees on strike raising there beers in celebration at the lack of competence of the replacement referees. A more empowering positional bolster is tough to imagine. The end of the game play call was as public and obvious a demonstration as to the importance of professional referees as any (especially when it deprives a team like the Green Bay Packers a win). Considering the amount of revenue at stake in the NFL (somewhere between 10 and 15 billion annually), it became clear that the referees were sitting pretty well as far as negotiation leverage. After public outcry and movements to boycott the NFL, (yea right), the NFL super giant was not in any kind of position to continue playing hard ball at the negotiation table. At that point, it was clear that the NFL was going to be forced to concede to the demands of the referees.

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