Things are that bad, and it is entirely the NFL's fault. This is a lockout. Goodell could end it immediately and work out a new deal later.
Instead, Goodell banked on several things. Fans just don't like officials; it's a thankless job. In a climate where people can be convinced teachers are overpaid because they have summers and holidays off, who is going to side with officials who make six figures for working 17 to 20 weekends a year?
It turns out that is the wrong way to place a value on the real officials. Their worth should be measured by their role in maintaining the integrity of the NFL. They're human, they make mistakes and all that - but they play what we now see is an invaluable role in quality control.
A good salary and a generous pension are relatively small trade-offs for the league to make in this essential area. They are ultimately what every official risks if he is offered money to fix a game - the ultimate disaster for any professional sports league.
Not only are the fake officials incapable of managing the game or enforcing the rules, they are huge liabilities in the area of integrity and trust. What would stop some temp hired on as a side judge from accepting a pile of cash to make a game-changing call?
A reach? Did you see the calls that crew made in Seattle? Before they blew the call on the final play, those officials kept a Seattle drive alive with a terrible pass interference call. It would almost make more sense if someone was on the take.
All of this is magnified by the league's dirty little secret, which is the connection between gambling and its preeminence over other sports. Goodell can smugly ignore what you think and what Drew Brees thinks, but if Vegas decides his league isn't reliable enough to take wagers on, the NFL is really in trouble. Ironic, huh?
There are two main issues in play: the officials' pensions and the league's proposed pool of officials who would be prepared to replace underperforming officials. In other words, the NFL is allowing comically unqualified officials to work games in order to improve the quality of officiating in the future. You can't make this stuff up.
Of course, the league would use this proposed system to get rid of senior, more highly paid officials in favor of younger, cheaper ones. This is all about money, as the pension issue proves. The league wants to switch to a 401(k) contribution instead of a guaranteed benefit pension. That would save this $9-billion-a-year industry about $3.3 million annually. For that relative pittance, Goodell has turned his league into a nationally televised farce.
Last year, with the players locked out, the league and its teams laid off other employees. This was purely despicable and arguably unpatriotic, using the cover of a bad economy to slash jobs even though your own business is booming. The NHL is doing the same thing right now.
The same logic applies on pensions. The NFL can afford the old way. It just wants to take this perk away because it can - and because, again, no one is lining up to defend well-paid part-time employees.
Certainly not the players. They were staunch union men when they were locked out. Now that the game checks are coming in again, forget it. It wasn't until the fake refs began affecting them directly that anyone spoke out.
It is, apparently, too much to ask of Jeffrey Lurie or Andy Reid to break from the league-mandated groupthink and speak up. Reid was clearly aggravated by the ineptitude of the officials in Arizona on Sunday. So far, though, the worst call in an Eagles game was the phantom offensive pass interference that cost Baltimore a touchdown.
If this idiocy continues, a missed call will cost the Eagles a game, or get a key player seriously injured. With their silence now, the Eagles will be complicit. But it is Roger Goodell, the commissioner with zero tolerance for those who tarnish the shield, who is tarnishing the shield the most.
Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan