Ten Miles Square


September 26, 2012 8:30 AM A Modest Proposal to End the NFL Referee Lockout

By Joshua Tucker

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.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Joshua Tucker is a Professor of Politics at New York University.
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  • Tom on September 26, 2012 6:45 PM:

    Not gonna happen - players won't risk/accept financial penalties. Better is is fans continue watching games but boycott Beer and Chips advertised during the games. There are plenty of other brands to choose from.

  • Vince on September 26, 2012 9:17 PM:

    Through no fault of their own?!? Can we stop not blaming the scabs. Because whose fault is it that they have crossed the lines and are refereeing the games?

  • Matt on September 26, 2012 11:38 PM:

    Not gonna happen - players won't risk/accept financial penalties.

    But for something like this (or for that matter, a wildcat strike, but never mind) the league wouldn't dare assign penalties--because they'd have to fine every single player. It'd be like trying to rob a 7-11 with a nuclear weapon.

    This would probably fall apart on other logistical details. For one thing, it'd have to be a lot more than 15 minutes before anyone watching TV would notice. (Sportscasters are really good at filling time.) Maybe half an hour between quarters. And even then, you'd really be trying the patience of the paying fans. (A lot of whom bought their tickets before this all hit the fan.)

    But this is probably the right general angle. How about this--the teams agree in advance that the team that wins the coin toss will receive, kneel down for the first three plays, then kick an unobstructed punt into the end zone for a touchback. (Then repeat the process, obviously, for the start of the third quarter.) No disadvantage for either team (most kickoffs go out the back of the end zone these days), TV can't work around it, and the fans still get 56 minutes of competitive football.

    Fortunately, it looks like it won't be necessary. But we'll see.