The NBA and its referees aren't seeing eye to eye when it comes to their labor deal. If they don't get on the same page soon, the NBA might be forced to come up with an even worse method of game officiation. It has long been thought that the NBA's biggest problem has been its referees.
That sentence takes on a whole new meaning with the news that the league and its game officials are having trouble figuring out their contract situation. The current contract expires on September 1 and the two sides are reportedly not close to an agreement.
The holdup is reportedly over a 10% reduction that the NBA wants to make to the refereeing budget. The refs, of course, aren't feeling that idea and may respond by withholding their services into the preseason and regular season until they get an offer from the NBA that they're willing to work for.
This is either brilliant or insane.
Let's first look at the insane: If you look back to last season's playoffs-- which were filled with missed calls, controversial calls, inconsistent calls, reversed calls and other general nonsense-- it's hard to take the referees' side. After all, the economy isn't doing well and being asked to take a cut in pay is something that lots of workers are being asked to do on less than what NBA officials make. This article says that in 2000 a rookie ref would make $90,000 and the cream of the crop would pull in $328,000. I'd be surprised if any deal reached since then included a salary reduction, so it's not as if the league is asking these guys to work for peanuts. The NBA laid off 9% of its workforce before last season started, so a 10% budget cut for the refs isn't an arbitrary number. To think that they should be exempt from the economic realities of this nation is unwise, at best.
And now the brilliant: Even with all of the debauchery that occurred in the postseason, can you imagine what it would be like if the NBA were forced to use the guys who weren't good enough for the league? The game is faster and the rules more complex and some guy off the street can't come in and sufficiently do the job, no matter what the viewing public thinks. And who thinks that the players would respect someone who they know is a replacement ref? Can you imagine Rasheed Wallace or Kobe Bryant interacting with someone they've never heard of before? Sure, Steve Javie and Joey Crawford have huge egos and sometimes get in the way of the game, but the players know not to cross them. I won't go so far as saying that the officials deserve the six figures they currently take to the bank, but they can make a case that they don't deserve less.
Lost in the disagreement between the two sides is the actuality that theydepend on each other. Short of players making their own calls and shooting for it when there's a disagreement, there's not a realistic way to move forward without the zebras. And there aren't many workplaces that would tolerate the failure rate the referees put up from game to game.
In short, the two sides should figure out how to play nice and give in a little from whatever their current demands are. If they don't, the game is what will suffer and the fans' discontent will become the NBA's newest biggest problem.