SBD/September 26, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Deal Close Between NFL And Referees, With A Return For Week 4 Games Possible

Regular NFL referees could be working NFL games as soon as this weekend
The NFL and the NFL Referees Association "made enough progress" in negotiations for a new CBA last night that the "possibility of the locked-out officials returning in time to work this week's games has been discussed," according to sources cited by Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com. One source said that an "agreement in principle is at hand," although NFL owners have "postured with a 'no more compromise' stance." League sources previously have said that it "would take a week to get the locked-out officials on the field." However, the NFLRA indicated that its 121 referees "have been trained on the new rules implemented last season, have already passed physicals or are prepared to pass physicals immediately." Both sides have "made concessions on previous sticking points," including pension plans. One source said the last big hurdle is "about a little more money" (ESPN.com, 9/26). NFL.com's Albert Breer cites a source as saying that the NFL and NFLRA last night agreed to "create a developmental program as a compromise to the NFL's demand for the addition of 21 officials to the current contingent of 121 NFLRA members." The pool of money "for the existing officials also will remain the same." The developmental officials "will be mentored by the existing crews and will be assigned to work with them during the week." They will not "be NFLRA members, will not work games, and will not be eligible to be subbed in initially." As they improve and "reach the standards to be NFL officials, they will be considered for NFLRA membership" (NFL.com, 9/26). USA TODAY’s Mike Garafolo cites a source as saying that the league's “insistence on moving from a fixed-benefit pension plan to a 401 (k) type of model" had been the "biggest sticking point” (USA TODAY, 9/26).

MORE IDEOLOGICAL THAN FINANCIAL: The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Futterman & Clark cite an NFL owner as indicating that the disagreement with the referees “is more ideological than it is financial.” The owner indicated that the league's owners “would be much more willing to compromise if the referees were willing to become full-time employees” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/26). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch notes the difference in money -- estimated “by some to be roughly $3 million, or about $100,000 per team -- remains a relative pittance in light of the NFL’s skyrocketing annual revenues, which were $9 billion last year and are predicted to double to $18 billion per year by 2017” (N.Y. POST, 9/26). In Milwaukee, Jim Stingl notes the NFLRA’s bargaining position “should get a boost from the fiasco that's been the first three weeks of the football season.” The job of an NFL official is “apparently every bit as hard as it looks” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/26).

PLAYING HARDBALL: ESPN.com’s Andrew Brandt wrote as much as owners "like to win on the field, they enjoy winning off it just as much.” As with the negotiations last year with the players, owners "don't ‘need’ a different kind of deal; they simply ‘want’ a better deal." Brandt: "They believe they can extract concessions because they have the leverage to do so” (ESPN.com, 9/25). In K.C., Randy Covitz wrote, “As long as stadiums are filled and television ratings are high, don't expect Goodell and the owners to budge very much” (K.C. STAR, 9/25).

OBSTACLES IN THE WAY OF A RETURN? Locked-out NFL referee Scott Helverson yesterday said that a “series of obstacles stand in the way of a speedy return for regular game-callers.” Helverson said, “Technically, we have to go to a clinic. We have to be given the new rules, we have to be given new rule books -- and new uniforms. Can we do that in two days, before Thursday? I don’t think so -- unless they change all those guidelines.” He added that union bylines “require all 121 members of his association to vote on a potential deal in person” (DESMOINESREGISTER.com, 9/25).
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