By Doug Russell Special to Published Sep 19, 2012 at 3:00 PM

It stopped being about money a long time ago. Now this is strictly a power play.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has a difficult job, much more so than his predecessor, the milquetoast Paul Tagliabue. In comparison, Tags had it pretty good. His only charge? Don't screw it up.

After all, Pete Rozelle did all of the NFL's heavy lifting. He battled and eventually merged with the AFL; he created the Super Bowl; he stared down the upstarts of the WFL and USFL; he developed and implemented Monday Night Football, NFL revenue sharing, and instant replay.

But for all of the great things Rozelle did for professional football, concern for players' well-being may not have been at the top of the list. After legends like John Mackey, Mike Webster and Dave Duerson all suffered what would turn out to be fatal injures from playing the game, the question of what Rozelle knew and when he knew it has been asked.

While that will be for either a jury or a team of negotiators to decide, it is now Goodell's mess to try to clean up. His charge is to not only continue to grow the game of football, but to also protect the shield by demonstrating that he has player safety at the forefront of the decisions he makes.

Defensive players say that Goodell is trying to change the very fabric of the game by doling out fines at a record pace for hits on offensive players deemed to be excessive. However, with more than 3,400 plaintiffs in 135 separate player-injury lawsuits threatening to cripple the NFL's finances, the commish has to demonstrate that he is on top of it.

Part of "being on top of it" right now includes his zero-tolerance policy on the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. Never before had a coach been suspended for a full season, nor had a general manager been sent away at all. And while the commissioner has ultimate authority over coaches and executives, as it pertains to player discipline, he has their union that he must deal with.

As you know by now, the year-long suspension of linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and the partial season suspensions of Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith were overturned on appeal. And while the matter is again being reviewed by the Goodell, he lost a battle not only in the court of law, but also in the court of public opinion because the evidence that he claims to have appears, to the naked eye, flimsy at best.

But while that matter seems to be separate to the dispute between the NFL's locked out officials and the owners, it may provide us some insight into the insipid, embarrassing and infuriating real reason we are forced to endure the gross incompetence of the replacements the NFL has saddled all of us with.

"I think it is getting towards (that)," former NFL Director of Officiating Mike Pereira says of Goodell's rigid stance to save face amid the overwhelming clumsiness of his zebras to implement basic rules of the game.

According to Forbes, the total value of all 32 NFL franchises is $35,415,000,000. The reported dollar difference in salary and benefits between the owners and the officials is about $10 million per season.

Ten million dollars adds up to $312,500 per team. There is not one single member of the Green Bay Packers that makes less than $465,000. Not one.

In terms of a percentage, $10 million is 0.00028 percent of the total value of the NFL.

This is like digging in your heels and refusing to budge off of buying your dream car for $7 more than what you are trying to get the dealer down to. After a while you just want the dealer to cave on principle so you can feel like you got one over on him, irrespective of how actually miniscule that victory is.

Welcome to today's NFL.

The owners – i.e. Goodell – are arguing over nothing more than wounded pride as Rome is burning all around them. Even those sympathetic to the owners admit that this is nothing more than the man trying to keep the workers down just to prove that he can, damn the business sense of the dispute.

"It's not about haggling over a level of money that amounts to a small trickle of the NFL's revenue," Forbes sports business writer Tom Van Riper recently wrote in asserting that the referees need to cave and return to work because their boss has told them to. "It's about establishing precedent, about not giving up more and more to the refs at every contract renewal just because they can afford to. Good businesses don't run that way. The major sports leagues, understandably, feel it's important every so often to put the officials in their place. To remind referees and umpires that the fans pay to watch the players, not them."

This, in theory is true. The problem with Van Riper's assertion is that we are now, in reality, spending much too much time watching and waiting for the next gridiron catastrophe from men (and women) that are wholly unqualified to be out on the field to begin with.

"You take the situation in the St. Louis – Washington game," Pereira says. "A play at the goal line, a Stephen Jackson run was ruled a fumble, recovered by the defense, Washington. Because that's a turnover, it goes under automatic review by the replay official upstairs. A coach is not allowed to challenge, but (Rams coach) Jeff Fisher threw the flag. They (the officials) ended up ignoring it and didn't penalize Jeff Fisher the 15 yards he should have been penalized."

Pereira also points out specific instances of the rules of the game being incorrectly applied in the Cowboys – Seahawks game when a chop block was erroneously interpreted, as well as a 29-second clock runoff in the Cleveland – Cincinnati game on an incomplete pass. In Week 1, the Seahawks were awarded an extra timeout which nearly led to the wrong team winning the game.

These are not missed calls, the kind of which even the regular officials sometimes blow. These are egregious misinterpretations of the NFL's rule book. Aside from that, they simply do not have it within them to control the games they are being paid to control.

Monday night in the Broncos – Falcons game the first quarter took nearly a full hour to complete because of an absolute meltdown by the replacements. First, they had two touchdown calls reversed on replay, then failed to restore order after Knowshon Moreno's fumble that was eventually ruled Atlanta's ball.

Amid the chaos, Denver's J.D. Walton shoved an official and Atlanta's Ray Edwards started punching members of the Broncos. Both could have been ejected, but all Edwards got was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Monday night the only thing that was apparent was the utter lack of respect the players have for the replacements.

Then there is the issue of what kind of officials the NFL hired as replacements in the first place.

Craig Ochoa spent last season in the Lingerie Football League. Whether or not he was dismissed from that position is in dispute, but this is who the $35 billion NFL is entrusting its product to. Shannon Eastin, the first female to officiate a NFL game, is a past participant in the World Series of Poker. So much for gambling being the root of all evil in professional sports. Apparently it's Jim Dandy okay with Goodell and his bobos.

"The NFL does extensive background checks on prospective officials, including the current group of replacement officials," NFL spokesman Michael Signora says. "All of them have passed the NFL's rigorous screening process."

Does that rigorous screening process include, oh, I don't know, looking at their officials' public Facebook page? If so, they would have found out that side judge Brian Stropolo is from New Orleans and is a devoted Saints fan, complete with numerous pictures of him in team apparel.

Stropolo was scheduled to work Sunday's game in Carolina. The Panthers were playing, yep; you guessed it, the Saints. As it turned out, it was not the NFL's "extensive background checks" that outed Stropolo. It was Mark Zuckerberg's invention to meet girls. And it wasn't the NFL that even caught Stropolo. It was a phone call from ESPN who were tipped off.

Stropolo apparently isn't alone.

Monday, during an interview on a Philadelphia radio station, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy told the hosts of the replacements, "I'll be honest, they're like fans. One of the refs was talking about his fantasy team, like 'McCoy, come on, I need you for my fantasy' ... ahhh, what?!"

That's the same thing we have all been asking ourselves. But the ball is in Goodell's court. And when the naked emperor is finally told he has no clothes and does the right thing, we can only hope a team's season is not ruined because of his sheer stubbornness.

Doug Russell Special to

Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at

Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.

Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.

Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.