(Replacement referee Glen Mayberry. Photo by Melissa Majchrzak, Getty Images)
As most of you know by now, the NBA and the referees are currently in the midst of a disagreement. The two sides will undoubtedly reconcile eventually, but since the refs unanimously rejected the league's latest offer, it doesn''t look like it'll happen immediately. The NBA is already using replacement referees in preseason games -- the first time the league has used scab refs since the 1995-96 season -- and it appears they'll be there for the start of the regular season. Needless to say, this has a lot of people worried.
Back when the refs went on strike in '95, the NBA was in no shape to find suitable replacements. In desperation, they hired officials from the Continental Basketball Association and reduced the size of the crews from three-man teams to two-man teams. It was a disaster, and after a couple months, the NBA agreed to a new deal with the pros. This time, the NBA has all the cards. This batch of replacement refs will have called games in the WNBA and D-League, meaning that they have all undergone years of NBA referee training (something the CBA refs did not have). And unlike the arrangement in 1995, the referees will be working in three-man squads, assuring that far more fouls will be called.
While the fill-ins will undoubtedly be worse at the job than the professionals, the NBA is no doubt forcing the referees to come around to their side by showing (in their opinion) that the players and the public won't see much of a difference. If David Stern has his way, the issue with the refs will be settled the same way the 49ers settled with Michael Crabtree; once the 49ers went 3-1, and Crabtree realized he had no leverage, he finally agreed to the Niners' terms. If San Francisco was 1-3 at the time, Crabtree would have been in no hurry to join them, since he still would have been able to tout, "You guys can't succeed without me. You HAVE to give me the extra cash I'm looking for."
Comparing 1995 to Maybe Now [New York Times]