N.F.L. Reaches Deal With Referees, Lockout Over
After three weeks of fan and player frustration ended in a game decided by a blown call, the N.F.L. has reached a deal with officials that ends a lockout that started all the way back in July:
The National Football League reached agreement on an eight-year labor deal with its game officials late Wednesday night, effectively ending a lockout that forced unprepared replacement officials onto the field, creating three weeks of botched calls, acute criticism, furious coaches and players, and a blemish — however temporary — on the integrity of the country’s most popular sport.
The agreement, which was being put in writing late Wednesday night, came 48 hours after the nadir of the league’s experiment with replacement officials, when an incorrect call on the final play of the Monday night game cost the Green Bay Packers a victory against the Seattle Seahawks.
That nationally televised debacle spurred two days of intense and lengthy negotiations against the backdrop of immense public pressure and scorn, most of it directed at the league. Both sides were so determined to play no more games with replacements that they raced Wednesday night to get officials in place to work this week’s slate of games.
Commissioner Roger Goodell is temporarily lifting the lockout so a crew of regular officials can work the Ravens’ game against the Cleveland Browns in Baltimore on Thursday night. The members of the officials’ union will then gather in Dallas on Saturday and are expected to vote to ratify the contract, with regular officials expected to then work Sunday’s games.
Goodell said: “This agreement supports long-term reforms that will make officiating better. The teams, players and fans want and deserve both consistency and quality in officiating. We look forward to having the finest officials in sports back on the field.”
Scott Green, the head of the officials’ union, said, “We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week’s games.”
Under the terms of the deal, pensions will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season. New officials will get a 401(k) instead. The average official’s salary will rise to $173,000 in 2013 from 149,000 in 2011.
Beginning in 2013, the N.F.L. will have the option of hiring a number of full-time officials; officials currently are part-timers.
The negotiations with officials were conducted largely by Goodell and the league’s top lawyer, Jeff Pash, with little of the direct owner involvement that was featured during negotiations with the players last year.
The latest round of talks began last Saturday. On Monday, before the Packers game, the sides agreed to meet again on Tuesday. Once the talks began that morning, they took on a new urgency with some owners, who were concerned about the damage being done to the league’s credibility by the replacements. The sides met for 17 hours on Tuesday and went well into the night on Wednesday.
After Monday’s disaster, it seemed inevitable that the parties were going to reach a deal to get this lockout ended. Could you have imagined what Lambeau Field would’ve been like if Sunday’s game against the Saints and featured replacement referees? The only question is how long it will take for fans to start complaining about the “real referees” again.