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How to retire like an NFL official

NFL officials will get to keep, for now, what's become a workplace rarity -- a traditional pension.

By Karen Datko Sep 27, 2012 6:40PM

Congratulations to the NFL Referees Association, whose 121 members managed to hang on to a benefit that's nearly disappeared from the U.S. workplace -- a dependable, defined-benefit pension plan.


A five-year extension of the pension plan is part of a tentative eight-year contract announced early Thursday, ending a lockout of league officials that began in June. Negotiations reportedly intensified after replacement officials blew critical calls Monday night, costing the Green Bay Packers a win.


Yes, the agreement includes a decent pay raise. The average annual pay, $149,000 last year, will jump to $173,000 next year and to $205,000 in 2019. Actual pay is based on seniority, with rookie officials earning about half of that. 


But it was the pension plan that the referees and other officials were most concerned about. 

Here's what the NFL proposed, as explained by Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times:

One major issue is the NFL's insistence on changing the retirement plan for all refs from a traditional defined-benefit plan, based on the employees' pay and years of service, to a 401k-style defined-contribution plan. The defined-benefit plan covering existing refs would be frozen and terminated -- they'd get what they've earned so far, but no more. The referees union has already agreed to the changeover for all newly hired members but proposes to grandfather the old plan for existing refs, allowing them to continue to accrue benefits.

What was wrong with the NFL proposal?


The NFL looked cheap. The league, which took in more than $9 billion last year, would save a mere $3.3 million a year by switching officials to a 401k. "Helpless to stop themselves overspending on running backs and Aqualanga truffles, this year the owners figured they'd wring a few cents from the help by locking out the officials," wrote Jeff MacGregor on ESPN.


Those numbers made the NFL's argument look weak. Commissioner Roger Goodell argued that he and other non-player league employees are on a 401k plan, so that should be good enough for the officials. As Goodell noted, a pension is an option for very few employees these days.


Wrote Kim Peterson at our sister blog Top Stocks:

This scenario has been hitting workers across America for decades. Companies have been very successful at moving employees from pension plans to 401ks and other plans that are cheaper and less secure.

Image: 401k © Tom Grill, CorbisThe officials essentially weren't impressed with the NFL's logic. "NFL referees have picked their battle over pensions for a reason: The 401k system is badly broken," said Demos' Policy Shop blog


The tentative agreement provides that the pension plan will continue for current officials for five years or until an official completes 20 years. In 2017, a 401k will take its place for all officials. "The annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019," The Associated Press said of the 401k. And that's in addition to employer matches of employee contributions. Sweet.


Officials will vote on the contract Saturday when they meet in Dallas. "The freezing of the defined-benefit plan after five years might not be a popular concession with all officials because 96 of them would not reach the 20-year mark at the end of that five-year period," wrote Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. "The pension plan caps at 20 years, and therefore 80% of the officials would not realize that pension goal." Nevertheless it's expected to pass.

What do you think? I don't buy the line that NFL officials are overcompensated for what is described as a part-time job. Many officials -- 85% of whom have other jobs -- put in nearly 40 hours a week during the season -- including study, a weekly exam, film review and travel to and from games, Sports Illustrated has said. Not convinced? Read John Clayton's description of referee Ed Hochuli's average week. (It was Hochuli who organized weekly tests and conference calls to keep officials up to speed while they were locked out.)


They're not overpaid for a job that requires them to:

  • Regulate supersized millionaires engaged in a brutal contact sport.
  • Maintain a high level of physical fitness and mental quickness.
  • Endure the critique and, at times, condemnation of millions of people.
  • Have impeccable integrity.

If these guys don't deserve a great retirement plan, who does?


More from MSN Money:

Sep 27, 2012 7:32PM

Who deserves a reasonable retirement plan you ask? Don't you think professional public safety people like firefighters and police deserve fair retirement compensation? I do!

I ask, how many ref's have died in-the-line-of duty in the last 15 years? How many have gotten cancer because of work place exposures?

Something seems out-of-wack.

Sep 28, 2012 9:09AM

""They're not overpaid for a job that requires them to:

Regulate supersized millionaires engaged in a brutal contact sport.
Maintain a high level of physical fitness and mental quickness.
Endure the critique and, at times, condemnation of millions of people.
Have impeccable integrity

If these guys don't deserve a great retirement plan, who does?""


How bout the military who make a hell of a lot less than the refs.

Sep 27, 2012 8:09PM

Cousin in Connecticut who is a police officer told me as of 2 years ago his department did away with all pensions and turned every new hire towards a 401K and something tells me they don't pay half of what the NFL is putting into theirs.  Call me crazy but when did a job that you can potentially get killed at everyday you leave the house become not as important as that of a sacred NFL official that runs up and down a field throwing yellow flags around?


Not to mention these are guys that are working other FULL TIME jobs, some of which pay great money alone such as the great attorney Mr. Hoculi.  Six figures for part time work?  Not including I'm sure per diem money for food, top notch hotels & travel, and god only knows what other perks such as tickets and such.


Maybe I'm just bitter I went to school for 6 years and am still trying to pay back student loans as a lowly physical therapist.  F***ed up world we live in.

Sep 27, 2012 10:29PM

Supposedly the entire nation is up in arms over teachers' wages and compensation packages, and they are willing to replace them with inexperienced teachers; but lord knows, we must have the "real" refs back on the field! 

Sep 28, 2012 8:21AM
Lets see- a part time job, paying about $150,000 a year, with health care benefits, a pension, paid days off and "other benefits".  These refs also have other jobs, some of which are lawyers.  Any they want us to feel sorry for them?  Seems to me that plenty of people were griping about the blown calls they've made over the past few years and they were getting worse- not better.  So we choose between occasionally p*ss-poor officiating and really horrific officiating!  Too much money chasing this issue.
Sep 28, 2012 8:43AM
Your a sap if you even wade into this argument.  There is no business in the country so contemptuous of it's customers than the NFL.  You're a dollar sign and a sucker to them.  They never miss an opportunity to screw the fans - especially the ones sitting in the seats - with PSL's, changing game times, rising prices, etc.  If you buy tickets, wear a Jersey or root for a team, look in the mirror real close and see if you can see the L sign on your forehead.  The NFL does.  
Sep 28, 2012 9:23AM
Must be nice to draw a pension from a part time job working 17 days out of the year.
Sep 28, 2012 8:36AM



Sep 28, 2012 7:35AM

headline = How to retire like an NFL official;

So how do I

Sep 27, 2012 8:44PM
What does this have to do with explaining how to retire like and NFL official?
Sep 27, 2012 10:03PM

This is so out of wack--refrees are part time employees, why are they being paid this amount of money, to ref a game, what about firemen. police and milarty.


Sep 28, 2012 9:53AM
i am pissed off hearing people bitch bitch bitch all you have to do  is stay away empty stadiums are the result of wages and pensions.the fans are the biggest union if anyone can change wages its them......dah
Sep 28, 2012 9:35AM

This article is garbage for many reasons.  "helpless to stop themselves from overpending on RBs."  This statement is so dumb.  The owners have been trying to avoid overspending but with unions and arbitration they are forced to dole out ridiculous salaries.  So the owner gets screwed, right?  WRONG!! It's us, the fans, that get screwed with all these insane deals.  Refs get more benefits, your ticket price goes up.  Players get more money, your cable bill goes up.  Owners have to pay more to their employees, their revenues streams must increase and it's the fans who pay it in beers prices, ticket prices, merchandise prices, etc. 


The reasons listed are so stupid as well.  "B/c they regulate supersized millionaires in a brutal contact sport?"  Who cares?  They regulate just as well as the replacements and/or anyone one of us with a shiny whistle. 

"Maintain a high level of fitness and mental quickness"  Are you serious?  Let's be honest, you have to be able to jog and throw a hankerchief to meet the level of fitness to be a ref.  Mental quickness...."holding, 10 yards, on #43."  super hard.  Most of the time the number is wrong anyway....some mental quickness.


Impeccable integrity.....seriously????  Anymore so that any one else who works?

Referees have "choices". The article indicated that 85% have "other jobs" which should read "careers" . To my recollection, they are often doctors or highly skilled professionals.  The other 15% I imagine are capable of working in fields just like the majority of referees.

Anyway... I wouldn't lose any sleep over their plight because they are well compensated.

Sep 28, 2012 9:02AM
well again its the fans that will pay for their money BS.. I think its a shame that we can look at a game and see the refs gets amost 200 thousand dollars a year its all bs..
Sep 27, 2012 10:53PM

I didn't intend to denigrate the professionalism of the ref's, i respect what they do and the difficulties of the job. I believe they are dedicated.

My point is, when the public "rails" about the benefits public servants receive shouldn't they also measure how others are compensated?

Fire and police are middle-class workers, they will always be so. They also need our support to receive "just" compensation.

Sep 27, 2012 10:38PM
One of the best Part-time "Gigs" going........... and you can do this for 20+ years, the average players career is likely 5 yrs....... Lets see,. an E4/E5 in the Military makes  "how much"..(including combat pay).....
Sep 28, 2012 10:50AM
If people chose not to attend or watch on TV anymore, then all of this would be moot. The economy is so bad that 80,000 people can attend, buy things, etc.? If that is what you want to do, do it. I'll save my money for things that are more important to me.
Sep 28, 2012 12:53PM
Referees deserve a pension more than Congressmen do.
Sep 28, 2012 10:03AM

If these guys don't deserve a great retirement plan, who does?

How about teachers. How about fire fighters. How about ANY OTHER PERSON ONTHE PLANET. Sports.

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