Marquette Law prof.: Pension plan, full-time status sticking points in ref talks

MILWAUKEE -- Many have expressed their displeasure with the replacement refs -- hired by the National Football League to officiate games in the first three weeks of NFL play, after talks broke down between the league and the referees' union over contract negotiations. The anger seemed to come to a head during the Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks game on Monday night, September 23rd, when replacement refs made a controversial game-ending call that led to a Seahawks' victory over the Packers, 14-12.

FOX6 News spoke with a law professor at Marquette University about the referee lockout, and the cause of this labor dispute. This, as many media sources reported Wednesday the two sides could be close to reaching a deal soon.

Gordon Hylton is the former director of the National Sports Law Institute, and is now a law professor at Marquette. Like many, he says he has been fascinated by what happened Monday night in Seattle, and says there are two reasons the regular referees are not yet officiating games.

"One is the NFL's desire to convert the referees' pension plan into a 401k plan, which will save them money in the long run," Hylton said.

Hylton said he is skeptical about this demand by the league.

"I thought initially that was really a kind of red herring," Hylton said.

Hylton said he thinks the pension issue is really a way to get the referees' union to cave in on other things -- such as making the refs full-time instead of part-time.

"The problem of course is that the current officials are never going to agree to that. They're happy to have their day job -- some of whom make quite a lot of money during the week and of course going to full-time referees would require them to give up refereeing or give up their regular jobs," Hylton said.

Hylton said because of what happened in Seattle on Monday, the power in this dispute may have shifted.

"There's sort of now a giant 'we told you so' that 100 million people at least have already seen. You would think this would give the referees more leverage," Hylton said.

There have been reports that a deal could come in time to have referees on the field by Sunday, however, Hylton said he believes it's going to take another incident like what happened in Seattle before the two sides come to an agreement.

Hylton said he feels the league invested so much in the replacement refs that they're not going to back down right away.

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