A Modest Proposal to End the NFL Referee Lockout

By now anyone who follows NFL football knows that the replacement referees – likely through little fault of their own – have become an unmitigated disaster for the game.  We also know the players are not going to join the referees by striking, but that the players are furious about the ongoing lockout. As a good social scientist, I know this is just a collective action problem waiting to be solved. The players would probably all like to do something to end the lockout, but individually there is little incentive for a single player to take an action that would subject himself to punishment without having much of a chance of ending the lockout (although see Greg Jennings Twitter feed). So I’m going to provide the focal point for solving this collective action problem. So here’s what I propose:

Starting this week, the players should all refuse to play for the first 15 minutes of the game.  Not playing at all would invoke all sorts of financial penalties, and would also inconvenience all the fans who turned up for the game.  But by not playing for 15 minutes, the players are just going to wreck havoc with the TV schedules.  And as we know, the lockout is all about money, and so much of the money the NFL earns is from TV.  If the lockout is not resolved by the following week, all players should refuse to start the game for a half an hour.  Then the following week they should wait 45 minutes, etc.  And if the networks try to adjust coverage accordingly, then randomize.  Change the length of the delays.  Do it after half-time instead of before the game.  My guess is that after a week or two of this, the TV networks will put so much pressure on the league that the lockout will be over.

Anyone with a better idea feel free to leave it in the comments below…



7 Responses to A Modest Proposal to End the NFL Referee Lockout

  1. pretendous September 25, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    so, transform the prisoner’s dilemma into a stag hunt?

  2. Adam Hughes September 25, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    Would not playing for 15 minutes really “wreck havoc with the TV schedule?” Advertisers would probably want a partial refund, but the broadcasters could easily fill that time with discussion of the players’ decision to sit it out, analysis of different strategies for shorter duration games, etc. Perhaps a better idea would be for the players’ union to stand with the officials’ union and refuse to play any games for the safety of the players. See: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8422905/the-nfl-needs-end-referee-lockout-immediately

  3. Adam Hughes September 25, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    Also, if no one is playing, presumably the clock would run uninterrupted… so the total disruption would only be 15 minutes, which isn’t much in football time.

  4. Fritz Allhoff September 25, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Yeah, or here’s another modest way to end the lockout: the refs accept the terms they’re being offered and just come back to work. Everyone seems to think that the NFL is causing the problem, but the refs are just as causally responsible (or so I think). Given my tastes, they’re at least as morally responsible, too, but this is uncontroversially a two-party issue.

  5. Joshua Tucker September 26, 2012 at 4:54 am #

    To be clear, my idea is not that the players don’t play 15 minutes of the game, but simply that they delay the start by 15 minutes. Let the TV broadcast begin, and then just stand on the field. If the refs insist on calling repeated delay of game penalties, then there can just be an informal agreement that wherever the opening kickoff ends up, the other team will run the ball to the 20 yard line and down it there. Of course, there’s always the possibility that the refs won’t actually know whether or not they can call a delay of game penalty….

    So fans get the game, players get their paycheck, and the owners get some pressure from TV. And on Adam’s point, I do think the networks are going to start getting annoyed if there is some random amount of dead time at the beginning (or middle) of each game.

  6. Matt September 26, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    You know, I was thinking about how Sam Wang’s reasoning about election statistics seems much more sound to me. So, I thought I’d take another look at your website to see if you were credible. Then I read this, and it confirmed my belief that your reasoning is lazy. Not only is this the dumbest idea I’ve heard, it does not solve any of the problems that you propose it as a solution for.

  7. Tim R September 26, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Another idea my roommate and I were kicking around: On every first down in the first quarter, the offense takes a delay of game penalty. Then, the defense takes an offsides penalty to move the ball back to where it was. It will just drag the game out and (I think) hurt viewership.