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Networks staying quiet about NFL referee situation

September 25, 2012|By Joe Flint
  • The networks are staying quiet about the replacement referees.
The networks are staying quiet about the replacement referees. (Associated Press )

In the final scene of "The Godfather," Michael Corleone authoritatively tells his wife, "Don't ask me about my business, Kay."

It appears that the networks that carry National Football League games are playing the role of Kay to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's Michael Corleone. While on-air talent has not been shy about criticizing the replacement referees the NFL has hired while it tries to resolve a labor dispute with its regular officials, the top brass is staying quiet.

Given the billions of dollars CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and DirecTV shell out for NFL football, one would think that the networks would at least be working behind the scenes to try to put pressure on the league to resolve the situation. On Monday night, the general consensus is that the replacement referees blew a call on the last play of the game that gave the Seattle Seahawks a win over the Green Bay Packers.

But that does not to appear to be the case. In fact, the networks don't even want to go on the record to say anything about the current situation. One executive at a network that holds NFL rights said, "We don't tell business partners how to run their business just as we don't expect them to tell us how to run ours."

The NFL is not shy about expressing its thoughts about how its games are being covered. No NFL broadcast mentions the point spread in games. Ever concerned about its image, several years ago the NFL put pressure on ESPN to cancel a drama series called "Playmakers," which looked at the dark side of a professional football league. The NFL also has influence on who the networks hire to cover games and what advertising can run during games. 

An NFL spokesman said, "We talk on a daily basis with the networks. They are aware of the ongoing discussions with the referees union."

So far, the referee situation has not had a negative effect on ratings. But a few more blown calls and fans might grow frustrated and turn the channel. Then the networks may finally pick up the phone and call the NFL.

Then again, we all know what happened to Fredo Corleone when he took sides against the family.

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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.

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