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Blown Call

Sports analogies are a mainstay for business – both reporting and motivational development.  What is a company but a team, focused on scoring against the competition?  Nations also compete against each other far more constantly than the hardware counts from the quadrennial Olympics.  Business is a kind of sport, and as such some sense of “rules” applied “fairly” is the critical difference between an efficient market and exploitation.

That’s what makes the business of sports both fascinating and raw at the same time it is dreadfully dull.  While completing the obvious connections, the business of running a professional team drains the passion from the moments that make the highlight shows and endless banter worth watching.

Which gets us to the NFL Referee’s lockout– about the most boring story in the world until one seriously blown call.

The short version is this.  Seattle was down 12-7 to Green Bay with seconds left, and QB Russell Wilson lobbed a “Hail Mary” pass into the endzone to Golden Tate.  The ball was grabbed by MD Jennings of the Packers for an apparent interception, but Tate was able to get a hand in on the ball on the way down.  The ruling on the field was a “co-reception”, meaning both men had the ball, and such a situation counts as a reception for the offense.  That meant touchdown Seattle, who thus won the game 14-12.

I have yet to find anyone who thinks this was the right call, and Packers fans in general are seething beyond words.  How did this call happen?  This was far from the first questionable ruling by “replacement” referees brought in to take the place of the locked-out refs whose collective bargaining contract ran out this summer.  The NFL is playing hardball, er, two-minute drill on them and moving on without the regular zebras fans came to rely on.

Why does this matter?  For one thing, about $200M changed hands in betting on the game as Seattle covered the spread with the call.  For another, this makes the case for a “fair” game with rules evenly enforced in a way that is very hard to make in other matters involving unions and contract negotiations.

You have to wonder what might have happened to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s recall election if this had happened just ahead of the vote.

Beyond just the game and the money and the cultural value of NFL football, there is a lesson here that will stick in people’s minds far more than a year of Occupy Wall Street has been able to muster.  What happens when the skilled people we’ve come to rely on are pushed aside because of a disagreement over collective bargaining?  What is the value of skill and experience?  What, indeed, is the future of unions in today’s workplace?

Democrats were quick to capitalize on the obvious analogies, asking why people would want unqualified teachers or other public employees blowing things this badly.  It’s not a strong analogy, but it is likely to stick better than more esoteric arguments ever have.  In many ways, this goes to the nature of work itself today, when skill development (and related productivity) separates the work done in developed nations versus (much cheaper) developing nations.

What will come of this one blown call?  If nothing else, the value of a fair game where the rules are enforced with great skill and attention to detail has been shoved under lights as bright as they were that Monday night in Seattle.  While the analogies with other union contracts are obvious, the case against Wall Street is even easier to make with some time.

Once this sinks in, the case for smart, tough enforcement of rules that make a fair game will be obvious.  It certainly is in Wisconsin tonight.  The sports analogies that make for standard business reporting have a new and incredibly frustrating story that can be told over and over again.

Those who think they have a hand on the ball better watch it.

11 thoughts on “Blown Call

  1. I don’t watch sports,I don’t follow sports, and I don’t care about sports. But I heard about this one all day today. I think its kind of funny that people get so worked up about it. But what do you expect when you replace the referees with scab workers? They had to at least be ready for something to happen.

    • They were ready – there is an NFL official in the “booth” above the field watching everything. They have the power to reverse calls and so on. It’s not clear what happened in this case, however – but they anticipated issues.

  2. I have no problem with the call. The best course of action on the final play of the game would have been to simply bat the ball far out of bounds. The Green Bay Packer player tried to pad his stats with an interception, and his team lost as a result, that is the real message here that has been lost by everybody it seems.

  3. This pretty much ruined the season for me. Call it the last straw but this year has been pretty hard to watch with all the mistakes. There’s a good chance a playoff berth will be decided based on this, so we will come back to it again and again. No thanks, better to not watch anymore.

    • It’s been on constantly since Monday! I agree, there will be playoff implications, so it will never die. And Packers fans will keep bringing it back, too!

  4. It was indeed ironic that Gov. Walker butted in and said that the league should work harder on an agreement with the union. A spokesman later clarified that it didn’t mean that he supported any of the union’s demands (heaven forbid). I’m surprised he didn’t offer to have the Wisconsin State Police “escort” the real refs back to work.

    I think the better political analogy is that DJ R-Money keeps complaining about regulation of business and how he’d repeal Dodd-Frank. This would be the equivalent of a team supplying its own refs and swearing that they’ll be fair to the opponent. In this case, of course, the ref-supplying team is big business, polluters, the Wall Street crime syndicate, and we the 99% are the other team asked to trust the company refs. Considering that many of the Federal agency “refs” are captive to industry (or were especially under W), I am not sure how much of a difference this all makes, but look where the “Trust Us” mantra got us.

    Hey, what ever happened anyway to the “trust but verify” motto that St. Ronald espoused???

    • Yes, the idea that companies can police themselves is ridiculous. I do think that there are better ways to regulate than we have done traditionally, especially in environmental issues – so much is non-point these days it’s hard to lean on one source. But we still have to do something to move ahead. Self-regulation is silly.

  5. If someone wants to argue that companies should not be able to hire replacement workers, then I’d be glad to hear the arguments.

    Replacement workers are allowed under current federal law because there is a recognition that there should be limits to the power of striking workers.
    The loss of quality with replacement workers is supposed to be an incentive for both sides to come to an agreement.

    The National Labor Relations Act was signed in 1935 by President Roosevelt.

    • Being able to hire replacements is one thing, but when is it just not a good idea? Quality just can’t slip in the NFL – it really is a total luxury product after all. :-)
      Had a long talk with my kids tonight about how unions work, and they were pretty confused by the end of it. Funny how one came in pro-union and the other against, and now they are just confused. I value my time as a Dad. :-)

  6. I think it’s a real stretch to compare a bad call to unions in general. My guess is that this will die down in about a week.

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