What we learned from Liga MX refs' strike: The referees won
Club America's Pablo Aguilar and Toluca's Enrique Triverio were each handed a one-year ban from playing and that was enough for the referees, who were adamant that an example should be made of the players after they made physical contact in an aggressive manner with officials last week in the Copa MX.
Here are five things we learned from the episode.
The referees won
Make no mistake, this was a victory for the referees' association. The Liga MX and Mexican federation (FMF) had to back down and increase the original ban on Triverio from eight games and Aguilar from 10. It was a reminder of the power a strong, independent and united body can wield when it feels it has justice on its side.
The referees were simply demanding that the FMF and Liga MX followed their own regulations when it came to the punishment and wanted to draw a line in the sand on violence towards refs. They achieved both. Crucially, they also did so without turning public support against them.
The referees' association will be heard next time there is a grievance and players are unlikely to be charging up to officials like enraged bulls when a call goes against them.
It was a PR stain on league
This wasn't an easy situation for Liga MX and the FMF. On one side, they had to deal with the determined referees and, on the other, Club America, Toluca and other Liga MX clubs that didn't necessarily want the original punishments extended.
FMF president Decio de Maria tried to paint a picture that everyone was following the guidelines, stating that the original ban was based on an interpretation that the players had only "intent" to harm the refs and the appeal ban was that they actually had been assaulted. But that simplistic assessment relegates the vast weight of pressure on the authorities to find a quick solution as almost a meaningless afterthought.
In terms of crisis management, this didn't work out well for Liga MX and FMF. There was a strange news conference to announce the bans on Friday, right before week 10 was due to start. Then there was very little communication after the strike was announced. From the outside, the referees appeared to be in control, feeding information to media outlets and eventually getting their way.
The blurred lines between FMF and Liga MX once again came into question. The exact role the club owners and presidents have is also unclear. It was, perhaps, no coincidence that the issue was resolved pretty swiftly after the owners and presidents met with Liga MX and FMF officials in Toluca on Sunday afternoon. Just who was in control and calling the shots wasn't very clear.
Is the door open for a players' union?
The Mexican game is changing rapidly. The primary indicator is in television contracts, with the old Televisa/TV Azteca duopoly having been broken up and clubs now negotiating TV deals in an open market.
Old norms that have been taken for granted are being slowly eroded. It was notable that the Liga MX referees were actually demanding that the authorities stick to the rules as they are laid out.
These are exciting, yet fractious times for Mexican football. The quality of the product is improving and there is a push to become more of a global entity, but widely-reported alleged practices in Mexican football that belong to a bygone era still continue. There is the "Gentlemen's Pact," which doesn't allow players free agency after their deal runs out, multi-ownership of teams and a "draft" in which club owners sometimes buy and sell players without their consent.
In the background of the chaos with the referees has been the development of the players' union that Mexico international Rafa Marquez has been patiently working on. There is already a players' commission in Mexico, but it is linked to the federation and isn't a fully independent body. If the referees can gain instant results from standing up to the authorities and demand they follow the rules, imagine what the players could achieve in fighting their perceived problems a similarly united and independent body?
The referees' strike may just be the latest growing pain of a league that flirts with internationalisation, but seems to need to get its own house in order first.
Pressure now on refs
Tigres coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti talked on Monday of helping the refs do a better job. He said managers should not be screaming at them after decisions and players shouldn't be trying to trick them. But he also said the strike should also mean renewed commitment from the officials to improve.
Certainly, all eyes will be on the referees this weekend and every decision will be analysed with more emphasis than before.
In the end though, that commitment and desire to be as good as possible in an imperfect science should have already been installed in refs' mindset.
A grain of sympathy for Aguilar, Triverio?
This is a difficult one. Aguilar and Triverio were clearly in the wrong. There can be no accepting the way they charged up to the referees. And the FMF rulebook is quite clear in stating that the punishment for "attacking" a referee is for one year.
But if you look at the replays and don't know the rule, or the surrounding climate of hostility between players and officials in Mexico right now, and there is also an argument that a 12-month ban for each player is harsh.
That said, there is no doubt that moving forward this punishment will set a precedent and that will be a positive over the long term --- if not for Triverio and Aguilar's careers.
Earning that respect was the whole point of the exercise from the refs' point of view. Only very foolish players will now be approaching the officials in such a way in the future. Those that do now know the consequences.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.