NFL Replacement Referees-the Lessons of Training Temporary Employees

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The short autumn of our discontent is over as the United States has ended one of its greatest national convolutions of recent memory. Am I speaking of the attack on the US Consulate in Libya; the current stalemate of US politics and the Presidential race or the upcoming financial cliff on which the US may dive over on December 31?

No, I am talking about the debacle of replacement referees by the National Football League (NFL). After an eight week lockout by management, including three regular season games, the results were so catastrophic for America that the NFL finally game to its senses and settled the labor dispute.

How bad was the fallout? So bad that the controversy not only made the front page of the Financial Times (FT) last week but it also made the FT’s Op-Ed page on September 29, in a piece written by FT Senior Editor Christopher Caldwell, in an article entitled “NFL falls foul of the ‘drunken Santa’ problem”. Caldwell used the (unfortunately) well known fact of US department stores hiring alcoholics to pose as Santa Claus during the Christmas holidays as the lead in for a discussion of “O-Ring Theory of Economic Development” as articulated by Michael Kremer. Kremer’s thesis is that in “high-value added fields, where one malfunction in a complex chain can destroy all value, special rules apply.” This leads to the concept, found in the employment relations context, where there is a “positive correlation between the wages of workers in different occupations within enterprises.”

I would add one additional corollary to the above. That is training. The replacement referees obviously did not know the rules and when they did know the rules, they had great trouble applying them in game situations. In other words, they had not been properly trained.

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