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The NFL office yesterday sent a memo to all 32 teams with an alert that the ‘12 season “will begin with replacement officials in place,” according to Albert Breer of NFL.com. NFL Exec VP/Football Operations Ray Anderson said negotiations between the league and the NFL Referees' Association remain "deadlocked." The sides have been “at a standstill since the league locked out the NFLRA in early June.” Anderson in the memo said that there “remains a ‘considerable gap’ in negotiations and no discussions currently are scheduled.” The replacement officials have “come under heavy fire throughout the preseason, with multiple players questioning their ability to institute the rules and enforce the NFL's player safety policies” (NFL.com, 8/29). Anderson said the league is “committing to the replacement officials for as long as we need them to perform their services." Anderson: "It’s a week-by-week basis, but they are prepared to go the distance if required.” He added, “We are going to deploy the best we have available out there. We think they have gotten better week in and week out and they will continue to get better. There’s no perfect world in officiating, no one’s going to be completely satisfied. ... But we’re very comfortable that the group of officials that will be out there beginning next week will do a good job for us" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 8/29). Patriots Owner Robert Kraft said of the league memo, “It basically told the clubs that the league is going to start the season with the officials that have worked the preseason on the field, and currently the state of negotiations with past officials is nothing is happening. Beyond that, it’s hard to comment much because negotiations are taking place, when there are negotiations, between the league and the Referees Association. The league is empowered to do what’s in the best interest of the league. Hopefully at some point, (a deal) gets done. If it doesn’t, we’re going to start with replacement officials" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/30).
NFL PROVIDING HELP: The NFL said that it would “use procedures similar to those used during postseason games to help support the replacements, as they continue to learn on the job.” In N.Y., Judy Battista noted an officiating supervisor will be “in the replay booth at each game to help ensure correct penalty enforcement, administration of rules not involving fouls, operation of the game and play clocks and game administration.” He will be “able to communicate directly with the alternate official on the sidelines,” but he will “not be involved in judgments made by officials on the field” (NYTIMES, 8/30). USA TODAY’s Bell & Corbett note both sides maintain that they are “willing to negotiate but haven’t met since late July.” Bell & Corbett: "This could get interesting, with the 136 replacements who have worked the preseason games to mixed reviews -- and with some high-profile gaffes -- set to call the real games” (USA TODAY, 8/30). ESPN's John Clayton reported the locked-out officials are "hoping for ... a lot of bad mistakes that cause games to at least be tainted in their view -- coaches getting angry about it, players getting angry about it." Clayton: "From the NFL’s standpoint they want to show the leverage that, ‘Hey, these guys can do a decent job’” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 8/29). SB Nation's Bomani Jones said, “All you have to do is talk about how bad the replacement referees are. The best thing that can happen for the NFL is if people do not think about them, if the games go relatively smoothly” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 8/29).
DEAL NEEDS TO GET DONE: In N.Y., Gary Myers writes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should “lock negotiators in a closet and not let them out until this is done.” It is “hard to rationalize running a $9 billion-a-year business and not getting a deal done with part of the support staff.” Myers: “For the sake of the game, Goodell must put an end to this before the awful officiating overtakes the game and star players get hurt" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/29). The San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami said, “I can’t imagine it’s worth this to a $9 billion revenue league" (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 8/29). In L.A., Sam Farmer writes the league has “blown a major call.” The move means games “will be in the hands of officials with dramatically less experience, many of whom came from the high school and college ranks.” It is the “equivalent of slapping discount tires on a Ferrari.” Farmer: “The problem will be overly timid officials, not ones who are too aggressive with their calls. It won't be a shower of yellow flags, but flags that are seemingly sewn into pockets” (LATIMES.com, 8/29). NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said, “My concern is the referees, the replacement refs, get too cautious. In other words, the easiest way for them to disappear is to keep the flag in their pocket. I think even the players are starting to get a little sense of that right now, maybe they can push the envelope just a little bit more than what they’ve done in the past. If that’s the case, maybe we get games that are a little more aggressive than what we’d see otherwise” (WASHINGTON POST, 8/30). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said the NFL should be “embarrassed,” as the people who run it are "so arrogant." Wilbon: "This is the most powerful, important, impactful, richest entertainment industry in America, and for them to do this for fractions of pennies on the dollar, this is ludicrous” (“PTI,” ESPN, 8/29).
MAKING THE RIGHT CALL: In N.Y., Mark Cannizzaro writes under the header, “Replacement Refs Are The Right Call.” The “smart money” is on fans “not noticing whether there are regular or replacement refs on the field.” Giants WR Ramses Barden after the Patriots-Giants game last night said, “It’s rare that referees are responsible for a win or a loss.” Giants G Chris Snee said, “They’re under a microscope right now, so every mistake they make people are jumping all over them. It’s a tough situation for them, but they’re doing a great job.” Cannizzaro writes the regular referees are “entitled to go after whatever they feel they deserve, so this is not about condemning them for not agreeing to what the NFL is offering.” But, based on “the fact that NFL refereeing is a part-time job and it pays a lot more than the average full-time employee makes in other -- more important -- walks of life (nurses, cops, firemen), it’s difficult to muster up a lot of sympathy for them” (N.Y. POST, 8/30).
LOSING CONTROL ON THE FIELD: NFL Network's Kevin Harlan and Mike Mayock discussed the replacement refs during last night's Patriots-Giants preseason game. Mayock said it is a "shame” that the NFL and the officials cannot come to an agreement. During a long break in the action when the officials were sorting out a penalty, Mayock said, “Every coach and ever player in the league wants the regular refs. This is a prime example right here. We’ve got coaches on the field, nobody seems to taking control.” The following is an excerpt of their discussion:
Harlan, after a confusing explanation from the referee describing a penalty, “Did you write that down?”
Mayock: “I didn’t expect a whole lot from the replacement officials in the preseason and I don’t think we’ve gotten a whole lot. We want the regular refs back. ... But at the end of the day, this is supposed to be a high-quality NFL product and we’ve got to get it there.”
Harlan: “We’ve seen stalemates like this in other sports ... and what they have found in the history of these kinds of things is that the original offer doesn’t change that much.”
A lengthy delay ensued as the officials discussed what the penalties were and how to assess them. Harlan said once they set the ball for play, “I think they got it right and in the end, that’s what we’re all hoping” (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 8/29).
The NHLPA today "could offer a counterproposal" for a new CBA, "although numerous issues remain unresolved as a Sept. 15th expiration date -- and perhaps a lockout -- looms," according to Steve Zipay of NEWSDAY. Among the "snags that surfaced publicly Wednesday: How to agree on what is included in hockey-related revenues before that pie is divided and a proposed increase in escrow set aside by players, rather than a salary rollback, which was part of the 2004-05 contract." After yesterday's negotiations, "about the only thing to which both sides agreed was that under the NHL's most recent counteroffer, the players' share of the current overall revenues would be 46 percent, up from the initial NHL offer of 43." But NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said that if hockey-related revenues "are redefined, with some monies being removed as the NHL wishes, the pie is smaller" (NEWSDAY, 8/30).
CHECK THE FINE PRINT: The NHL’s offer has been characterized as a 50-50 split with players, but sources said that the players do not see it that way. One source said, “Their proposal goes to 50 percent of HRR, based on the way they define HRR. The way we look at it, they didn’t go to 50-50, they went to 46 (percent).” The reason for that is the NHL is redefining and reducing what revenues are included in HRR. Under the original proposal made by the league in July, HRR going to players would be reduced from 57% to 43%, using the old definition of HRR. The owners moved from 43% to 46%. The source said that overall reduction to players' share under the NHL’s new proposal would be about 19%. The NHL in the expiring CBA negotiated an escrow, where a percentage of players’ salaries are taken out of their paychecks during the season and held until the revenues for the season are calculated after the end of the season. The players then receive back the amount of money escrowed that is over their percentage of revenues as defined by the CBA. The escrow mechanism allows for players to get an exact percentage of defined revenues, which is why the NHL system has been called a hard cap. The source said that individual contract issues -- including the owners' proposal to increase the years a player would have to wait to reach free agency from seven to 10 years, and a new entry level system -- were not discussed at the meeting yesterday (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
PUBLIC APPEAL: In N.Y., Jeff Klein noted Fehr characterized the league’s latest proposal "as a 19.3 percent pay cut rather than the initial proposal’s 24 percent pay cut." Fehr said, "There was some movement there, and what we’re going to endeavor to do is come up with a response, which we would like to believe will allow us to make a deal, and if it doesn’t quite do that, push the process along." He said that the union "would be ready to make a counteroffer on Thursday or Friday." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, "Our proposal is more significant than the players' initial proposal" (NYTIMES.com, 8/29). The CP's Chris Johnston noted Bettman and Fehr were "surprisingly candid with reporters Wednesday and each discussed specific aspects of the NHL's latest proposal, some of which had already been leaked out to the media." They both "showed a desire to try and shape the larger public discussion around the talks." But Johnston wrote, "Nothing is coming easy in these negotiations" (CP, 8/29). In DC, Katie Carrera noted the two sides still "disagree over the sources and uses of revenue-sharing funds as well as other elements like the term of the agreement, player contract constraints and arbitration -- to name a few" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 8/29).
BE PREPARED: CSNPHILLY.com's John Boruk wrote, "If I’m an NHL general manager of a large-market, free-spending team, then I’d better start pinching a few pennies along the way." The revised proposal "calls for a reduction in salary cap from $70.2 million to $58 million, or an estimated 17.5 percent cutback." According to capgeek.com, if that number "holds when a new CBA is eventually reached, 16 teams (more than half the league) would currently be spending over the limit" (CSNPHILLY.com, 8/29). In Buffalo, Bucky Gleason writes Bettman "was dreaming if he believed the NHL players' association would accept a proposal that amounted to a roundabout route through a pretty neighborhood toward the same destination." What he "viewed as a significant step actually looked like him sidestepping the same issues" (BUFFALO NEWS, 8/30). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli writes for hockey fans "hoping training camps will open in 3 weeks, it's starting to get scary" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 8/30).
PLANNING AHEAD: Penguins RW and NHLPA rep Craig Adams said that Penguins C Evgeni Malkin, the reigning NHL MVP, "will not be the only player to sign with a European-based team in the event of a lockout." Adams said, "It’s something I’ve heard discussed among players." In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi notes Malkin and Penguins D Sergei Gonchar "started skating with Moscow's Kontinental Hockey League team Aug. 20." Both said that they "will play for the KHL club in Malkin's hometown, Magnitogorsk, if an NHL lockout stretched into the scheduled regular season." Malkin and Gonchar "would play on weekly contracts that would allow them to return to their NHL clubs when a new CBA is reached" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 8/30).