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NFL vs. Refs in Retirement Super Bowl

The 401(k) plan gets blamed for much of the financial woe facing the baby boomer generation as they approach retirement. But until Sunday, the savings plans had never been held responsible for the outcome of a football game.

Christina Loehr /

Behind the National Football League’s lockout of its referees — and the ensuing bad calls — is an effort to replace the refs’ pension plan with a 401(k). But while the referees may be getting short shrift from the billion-dollar industry in which they’re employed, they remain fortunate in many respects when compared with much of the American workforce.

A generation after employers started shifting employees to defined-contribution plans like 401(k)s, pensions have become scarce — and for part-time employees like the refs — they’re almost nonexistent.

Just how rare are they? According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about one in three part-timers gets offered a 401(k)-type plan of the type the referees wish to avoid. And fewer than one in 10 gets a prized pension plan like the ones they hope to keep. “It’s almost unheard-of,” says Rick Meigs, president of the

Basically, employers don’t want to be on the hook for regular pension payments to employees, because it’s difficult to predict ahead of time how much it will cost. Employees who otherwise must decide how much to save on their own don’t want to take this risk either.

Losses sustained by the financial crisis have revealed the 401(k) system isn’t serving workers nearly as well as experts once hoped it would. At the same time, many employers who’ve had to kick in more money to keep pensions solvent doubled down on efforts to rid themselves of old plans.

Even for the booming business that is the NFL, that’s been more or less the story, says Bob Boland, a professor of sports management at New York University’s Tisch Center. While players continue to enjoy both types of benefits, the league moved coaches and other employees towards a defined-contribution system several years ago. “Everybody in the world is facing this problem,” he says.

Will the referees share the same fate as most other American workers? It’s too soon to say. All employees probably think their contribution is key to the health of their business. But they don’t all have a highlight reel that shows it.


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    • You did not see the same play as I did (over and over) the ball clearly was in possession of the Packer player. And the blatent call that was missed in the first place would have nulified the play in the first place.

    • I agree with Jerbear.
      The rule of “possession” as I understand it, is not established until the person with the ball come in contact with the ground with his body, or taken a step with each foot. Merely getting the hands on the ball is not considered “possessing” the ball. Case in point – a receiver go up and snatch a ball, come down and took a step before getting a big hit that separates him from the ball, is an incomplete 100/100 times.
      In this instance, the defender got his hands on the ball first, but that does not constitute a “possession”. The receiver got his hands on the ball as well before they both tumble to the ground. The moment that they hit the ground is when a “possession” should be considered complete. Hence, when all the conditions of “possession” is satisfied, both player had the ball. In fact, one can argue that at the moment they contact the ground, the offensive player has more possession than the defensive player.
      The media have been most vocal about the replacement refs, and fueling the discontent. It draws viewer attention, and sells paper. I think they are the biggest culprit.
      Another point, I don’t understand why the media are making such a big deal about average game time being 11 mins or so longer. Yes, we don’t want the game to drag on. But …. so much fuss about 11 mins? They are replacements after all.

    • I carefull watched the incident several times and definately agree the decisoin of the replacement refs. I think the media has given them a bum rap. As I saw it, the “catch” was made simulaneously by both the reciever and the defense. Perhaps one had more posession than the other. Even if the defending back had 95% more posession than the defense, They both shared some degree of posession. It doesn’t matter who had more of the ball. They both had some of it, and the RULE clearly states that if both had some posession, the ball goes to the offense.

    • The Refs, can get pretty much what the want now.
      It is unfortunate that it has come to this. Eventually, everyone will realize that in all organized sports, the official represents and enforces the rules of the game. If not, chaos ensues as you have already seen.

About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.