NFL refs, contracting officers and the breakdown of trust
Like a lot of sports fans, I’ve been following the coverage of the NFL referees strike, especially in light of the controversial call at the end of Seahawks-Packers game Monday night.
The call of a touchdown instead of an interception has been roundly criticized as wrong and proof that the NFL needs to settle the strike and lockout of the regular referees and get the replacement refs off the field.
To hear most critics, the call was atrocious.
But I’ve watched the replay and I’m not so sure. Even if you question the call on the field, it was reviewed and upheld.
It was a close call. A damn close call. And I think the same decision could have been made with the regular refs.
The way commentators and bloggers have attacked the referees, you’d think that the regular refs have an unblemished record of perfection, that they just don’t make mistakes.
But we all know that’s not right.
In fact, the heart of the issue here isn’t about the decision. It’s about trust.
Any tough, close call by the replacement refs is immediately suspect because they are, well, replacements. They don’t have the relationships, the experience and the respect of the players and coaches on the field.
The whole brouhaha has me thinking about the contracting and procurement officials managing government purchasing and the contentious relationship between industry and government.
An organizational psychologist might explain the inner workings of the phenomenon better than I could, but I think we are experiencing a breakdown in trust. It might not be as acute or severe as what’s going on in the NFL, but there are similarities.
Any contracting decision that is questionable or risky is susceptible to complaints that the contracting workforce is overworked at best and incompetent at worst.
On the other side of the coin, any mistake by a contractor is used as fodder to characterize companies as privateers who are only interested in making a quick buck.
Neither generalization is true but they are evidence of an erosion of trust. And when trust is at a low level, any hard decision gets more difficult to make and support. It is any wonder that we’ve seen the growth of contract protests?
We are seeing this breakdown in trust played out with each NFL game.
It has become too easy to attack the other side for a tough call that goes against you, instead of admitting, and learning from, mistakes you may have made on the field.
And that applies to government contracting as much as it does the NFL.
The players and coaches think the problems will be solved by settling the labor dispute with the referees. That’s probably true. Controversial calls and mistakes will happen but the league will recover quicker because a lot of trust will have been restored with the return of the regular refs.
As for government contracting, I’m not sure a solution to the trust issue will be as easy.
Posted by Nick Wakeman on Sep 26, 2012 at 9:52 AM