Putting a Price on the Ongoing NFL Referee Debacle

While it is difficult to measure some of the negative impacts of the referee lockout (injuries which wouldn't have occurred otherwise? game, and therefore playoff seeding, outcomes? player performance bonuses? fantasy leagues? reputational risk?) in the NFL there is some data available on one major aspect of the game which has been impacted; gambling. From ESPN.com:

"Monday night's controversial touchdown call that gave the Seattle Seahawks a 14-12 victory over the Green Bay Packers had an immediate impact for gamblers.

If the Hail Mary pass by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson would have been ruled an interception by Packers safety M.D. Jennings, Green Bay -- 3½ point favorites -- would have won by five, covering the spread.

Instead, the replacement officials' call that Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate had possession shifted all those who bet on the Packers to those who took the underdog Seahawks.

"Most of the customers in the sportsbook were not happy with the final call," said John Avello, director of the race and sportsbook at the Wynn in Las Vegas. "The shift was 100 percent. After the (Seahawks) score, all bets were reversed."

Avello's best guess as to how much money was shifted worldwide on the call? $150 million in total bets worldwide."

Some people enjoy the NFL completely separate of any financial interest they have in the games. They might believe that gambling doesn't impact their teams in any way. However, those who don't believe that gambling has a direct impact on the games themselves should consider that the replacement refs, many of whom are not paid particularly well, might be susceptible to certain enticements which might help them to impact games through their decisions. That such a situation could exist is all the more possible given the lack of vetting of the replacements by the league.

Those who doubt that such a Hollywood-sounding scenario could play out would do well to remember what people are willing to do for money, particularly as more and more zeros get added to the equation. Once one factors in the fact that a lot of these bets occur offshore and considers the gambling schemes which occur with alarming frequency abroad in sports like soccer, and game-fixing seems all the more feasible. This isn't merely an issue of xenophobia either; it wasn't so long ago that a referee scandal rocked the NBA.

Even if the refs aren't complicit in changing the outcomes of games (in all honesty, I am still of the opinion that they are simply in over their heads), situations like the above might get it in player's heads that they could be. Even that could impact the outcome of games given how superstitious and mentally fragile many players tend to be. In any case, the lockout needs to end for the integrity of the game and the safety of the players. And that is what is important, right Mr. Commissioner?

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