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The NFL and NFL Referees Association “reached an agreement on an eight-year deal late Wednesday that immediately puts the regulars back on the field" with tonight's Browns-Ravens game, according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. The deal “lifts a lockout that lasted almost four months and puts to rest the fiasco of inexperienced replacement officials.” The agreement “must still be ratified in person by the 121 members of the NFLRA, a vote that will be taken in Dallas when the officials convene Friday to pick up their equipment and their Sunday or Monday game assignments.” Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service Dir George Cohen was “assisting in the negotiations.” To the officials, the “most important part of the negotiations was that the defined-benefit pension plan would be maintained.” The deal “keeps it in place for five years before freezing it and rolling pensions over to a 401(k) type plan.” The freezing of the defined-benefit plan after five years “might not be a popular concession with all officials because 96 of them would not reach the 20-year mark at the end of that five-year period.” The pension plan “caps at 20 years, and therefore 80% of the officials would not realize that pension goal” (L.A. TIMES, 9/27). In Chicago, Sean Jensen notes the agreement is “the longest in league history and was hammered out in New York with the help of Peter Donatello of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service.” The key details include:
- The current defined-benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the '16 season (or until the official earns 20 years of service). The defined-benefit plan will then be frozen.
- Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in '17, through a defined contribution arrangement. That will have two elements: an annual league contribution made on behalf of each official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.
- The game officials’ compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in '11 to $173,000 in '13 and $205,000 by '19.
Also, beginning with the '13 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 9/27).
BACK IN THE GAME: In N.Y., Judy Battista reports 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.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is “temporarily lifting the lockout so a crew of regular officials can work” tonight's game. The negotiations with officials “were conducted largely” by Goodell and NFL Exec VP/Labor & General Counsel Jeff Pash, with “little of the direct owner involvement that was featured during negotiations with players last year” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/27). In Boston, Greg Bedard writes the “timing is important because a new deal means every team would have three games worked by replacement officials.” Competitive balance “would have been shifted this week since two teams, the Steelers and Colts, have bye weeks” (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/27). Referee Walt Anderson said, “I’m relieved it’s over. I think everyone is. It’s time to get back to work and move on.” Anderson: “We’ll take care of administrative duties. Then we’ll leave Saturday for our games” (CHRON.com, 9/26).
POWER PLAY: CBS' Jeff Glor reports the terms the refs agreed to do not "appear to differ enormously from what they were asking just recently." That led some people "to wonder why wasn’t this avoided." Glor: "The answer: Some owners were just especially dug in. That position became far less tenable, especially after Monday." The N.Y. Post's Mike Vaccaro said, "After Week One, when there were really no incidents, they really thought they would be able to squeak by. I think in the last couple of days you’ve seen where this has become the dominant issue in the sport. You can’t have the officials being that much a part of the narrative” ("CBS This Morning," CBS, 9/27). NBC's Savannah Guthrie notes, “When you look at this agreement, it appears the league caved with officials getting pretty much everything they wanted." Guthrie: "So was this lockout worth it for the NFL?” NBC's Stephanie Gosk: “Experts this week said NFL owners may ultimately be the ones that lost power to the referees. Commissioner Roger Goodell, by locking them out, made them seem more valuable than ever” ("Today," NBC, 9/27).
BREAKING POINT: In Milwaukee, Tom Silverstein in a front-page piece notes it is “no coincidence that the agreement comes so soon after replacement officials were blasted from all directions” following Monday's Packers-Seahawks game. Outrage from current and former NFLers “as well as players from other sports, newspaper and online columnists, television commentators and even politicians put immense pressure on the league to resolve its labor dispute with the officials.” The NFL would have had a “very difficult time going another week with replacement officials on the field” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/27). ESPN.com’s John Clayton wrote the “negative backlash" from Packers-Seahawks "pressured the NFL into getting this deal done.” With President Obama “expressing his disappointment with the replacement officiating and poor officiating being the lead story of network news coverage, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had to act -- and he did” (ESPN.com, 9/26). NBC's Peter King said, "There was no trust at the end of the day in the replacement officials.” The last play in the Packers-Seahawks game “spurred the NFL to give more than it wanted” ("Today," NBC, 9/27). In New Jersey, Tara Sullivan writes, “As loop after loop of the game-ending blown call flashed across our television sets, the league had no choice but to get back to the bargaining table and cross the settlement finish line” (Bergen RECORD, 9/27). YAHOO SPORTS’ Michael Silver wrote, “If you think the timing of this deal is coincidental, you probably also believe that Golden Tate didn't intentionally push Sam Shields to the turf before his faux catch -- and that zebras can fly” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/27). In Philadelphia, Bob Ford writes it was “not just the fact that the outcome of a game was changed” on Monday night with the replacement officials’ call, but also that the team “getting hosed” was the Packers. If the same thing “happened to the Chiefs in a Sunday afternoon game watched by no one, the lockout would probably still be in place” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/27).
CHEERS TO YOU, AMERICAN SPORTS FAN: In N.Y., Mike Lupica writes the fans “have as much to do with making this deal as the commissioner or the union or the lawyers.” They “didn’t have to give up their seats to do it, they didn’t have to threaten merchandise boycotts or boycott games.” They just “yelled their heads off about how the caretakers of pro football were acting like idiots,” and they “got heard.” Goodell was “smart enough to understand he had to end it, and right now” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/27). FOXSPORTS.com’s Bill Reiter writes, “You did this, America. Your rage and angst and unwillingness to let Roger Goodell and his NFL make a mockery of your game fixed a replacement-referee debacle that had turned football into a national farce” (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/27). YAHOO SPORTS’ Dan Wetzel writes under the header, “NFL Gives Into Public Pressure And Does Right Thing By Bringing Back Regular Officials” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/27). But YAHOO SPORTS’ Jason Cole wrote, “Here's my reaction to your whining: Until you decide to stop watching the games, zip it” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/26).
TAKE IT EASY: Fox NFL analyst John Lynch appeared on “The Dan Patrick Show” yesterday and said the NFL “kind of duped every network" with regards to the replacement refs during the opening week of the season. He said the league "called and said, ‘Hey, we’re close to a deal so have your guys go easy.’ So that was kind of the edict from up top, ‘Go easy on these guys.’” Lynch said, “Not telling us not to say anything, but just be careful because a deal‘s close and they duped us like everybody else. So the next week it was take the gloves off, say whatever you want and we have” (“The Dan Patrick Show,” 9/26).
Fans that have watched an NFL game this season "now knows how important qualified officials are to the league," but it is harder to figure out "why the owners and commissioner Roger Goodell were willing to risk their credibility to save a few bucks," according to Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN.com. This is a league "that has been touting integrity for years in ways that sounded so convincing to the general public," but that "tough talk began to sound like cheap banter in just three weeks." Chadiha: "The thing we shouldn't do so quickly is completely forgive the NFL for this disaster. We should let it be a reminder of how hypocritical this league can be when it comes to espousing its values" (ESPN.com, 9/27). In N.Y., Filip Bondy writes, “Was it worth the black eye? Of course not.” The “stubborn foolishness of this particular lockout may well exceed anything that has come before” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/27). CBSSPORTS.com’s Mike Freeman writes under the header, “End Of Referee Lockout Is Cause For Celebration, But Nobody Won This Ugly Battle.” This was a “process that didn't need to be done.” NFL owners “attempted to break the referee union for a few extra bucks and came close to wrecking a season” (CBSSPORTS.com, 9/27). A Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL editorial states the “real blunder was the NFL's, for ever allowing such amateurs to take the field for such a crucial role” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 9/27). ESPNW’s Jane McManus wrote the “union-busting experiment has failed” (ESPNW.com, 9/26). In S.F., Ann Killion writes the end of the lockout “caused the NFL to eat some humble pie.” But even a “little humility is a very good thing for the NFL,” as Goodell and his “merry band of owners considered themselves the Untouchables.” Killion: “The NFL has finally proved fallible” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/27).
NO HARM, NO FOUL: NFL Network's Jeff Darlington said the NFL will not be “tarnished” by the replacement officials and he does not believe "anybody is going to not watch" because of the replacements' performance. Darlington: "Ultimately I don’t think they lost any fans and things will move forward for the NFL without any hiccups” (“NFL AM,” NFL Network, 9/27). SPORTS ON EARTH's Shaun Powell writes, "The shield has not been tarnished ... because that suggests it’ll never be restored." Powell: "Do you really believe that? The NFL may be the only entity in this country that can survive anything. ... The NFL is part of the family, and no matter how much it misbehaves, there’s always a seat waiting at the dinner table. In time, this too shall pass" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 9/27). In Miami, Greg Cote writes nothing can “kill sports because we addicted fans are more resilient than any other breed of consumer” (MIAMI HERALD, 9/27).
BEHIND THE SCENES: In L.A., Bill Dwyre writes the decision was “business, not emotion.” This was about “getting off the front page, and back onto the sports pages, where the faithful followers can be brought back into line quickly and beer sales stay good.” Dwyre: “The longer your missteps and greed are at noise levels above the cheering for touchdowns and pass completions, the more quickly the image you seek of high-class, fan-friendly entertainment gets pushed aside for the reality that you are, first and foremost, the greediest kind of corporate America.” Dwyre adds, “Give Goodell credit. He has one of the best, and hardest jobs in the world. He also responds” (L.A. TIMES, 9/27). ESPN.com’s Jeff MacGregor wrote the real officials are back “thanks to the gravitational pull of the money bet on U.S. football.” The end of the lockout “wasn't about integrity or love of the game or player safety or the fans or even the quality of the product on the field.” This was about a “game so poorly officiated by scabs that sportsbooks were refunding money -- because an NFL game looked crooked.” This deal got done “because without real officials, real money can't trust the NFL” (ESPN.com, 9/26).
BRING IT ON: SPORTING NEWS’ Clifton Brown wrote it is “time for the union officials to prove themselves.” That is the “climate regular officials are walking into, as they return to save our NFL season from further ruin.” Brown: “We are glad to have them back. That does not mean we will cut them slack. If anything, game officials will now be held to a higher standard” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/26). ABC’s Josh Elliott jokingly said, “It’s good to know that now there will never, ever be another bad call in any NFL game ever” (“GMA,” ABC, 9/27). In Phoenix, Bob Young writes, “Upon further review, we've decided that we're going to miss the NFL's replacement referees.” Every week fans “had a feeling that something could go terribly wrong, and that we were watching a fiasco.” Young: “It did, and we were. The replacements turned the NFL into the Lindsay Lohan of professional leagues. We had to watch or risk missing their next clueless adventure” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/27).
It is expected by the time the NHL and NHLPA gather in N.Y. tomorrow for their first formal bargaining session since the lockout was implemented on Sept. 15, the league "will have cancelled the rest of the exhibition schedule," according to Chris Stevenson of QMI AGENCY. Nobody is expecting the two sides "to come out arm-in-arm Friday." At this point, an "agreement just to continue talking would have to be seen as solid progress." In the meantime, it "seems like the next page in the NHLPA Lockout PR Handbook is to trash the owners." Flyers RW Claude Giroux, Avalanche LW Gabriel Landeskog and Canadiens D Josh Gorges "all took swings at their bosses" (QMI AGENCY, 9/26). In Chicago, Adam Jahns notes "among the topics that will be addressed on Friday" are contract lengths, arbitration rights, pensions, scheduling and discipline. Blackhawks C Jonathan Toews: "It seems like the past week or so, when both sides don't meet, it almost feels like there's a sense we're starting over from scratch" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 9/27). Lightning LW Ryan Malone: "Most of the guys, we're in there talking, the way it sounds, we're prepared to be locked out the whole year." In Tampa, Damian Cristodero notes the union "provided players with NHLPA jerseys" for their group workout, a "much better looking and less contentious option than the team jerseys players wore inside out to show lockout unity" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 9/27).
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Sean Gordon writes under the header, "Donald Fehr Forges Ironclad Solidarity." Players said that the NHLPA Exec Dir "has been adept at reaching beyond cliques and including everyone in the discussions," from superstars like Penguins C Sidney Crosby to free agent LW Mathieu Darche, who is on the bargaining committee." Fehr has "constructed what he hopes will be a lasting unity, and has done so painstakingly, racking up a hideous number of frequent flier points." One of the "main tasks for Fehr is to battle the inevitable impatience his members will express, but as he has said, every negotiation has its own pace and it doesn't pay to rush it." Fehr said, "The hardest thing to do is wait, but sometimes that's just what you have to do" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/27). In N.Y., Mark Everson writes the lockout has "yet to reach the serious, hand-wringing stage, and it won't until the sides lose things that matter." The absence of negotiations "is maddening in some circles, but there has been no reason yet for either side to bend, so there really is little to talk about." It would not be a surprise "to see the final collective bargaining agreement include provisions for advertising on uniforms and helmets as additional sources of revenue" (N.Y. POST, 9/27).
FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: In a special to SI, Former Panthers co-Managing Partner Stu Siegel writes, "If you look at the time line over the past year, Fehr appeared to be stalling and stringing out negotiations." But when "most of these owners say they're losing money every year, they're telling the truth." The players "do need to take a pay cut," but the "pain should be shared." This is a "players-versus-owners issue, of course." But it is "just as much a battle between the high-revenue clubs and the teams that are losing money." Get a team of "independent financial geniuses to figure out the math to equitably divide the $3.3 billion in revenue, and then convert that into a new CBA" (SI, 10/1 issue).
F1 Management Chair Bernie Ecclestone has revealed that the “much-anticipated” US$10B flotation of the racing circuit “will not take place until market conditions improve," according to Sylt & Reid of the London TELEGRAPH. Ecclestone said, "The float won’t happen this year, but next year it will if the markets change. No IPOs have gone through, only Manchester United. I was surprised that they let it go through at the price. First the price and secondly the amount" (London TELEGRAPH, 9/26). Meanwhile, with the future of the proposed F1 race in New Jersey in jeopardy, the Bergen RECORD's John Brennan noted Ecclestone has been known to “drive a hard bargain,” but there also are questions about whether race organizers “bit off more than they could chew by agreeing to privately fund the event.” Brennan asked, “How do you get enough corporate sponsors to pony up enough dough for an event that has never occurred and that is somewhat difficult to even imagine? And wouldn’t you be a little leery of writing checks for an event whose tour czar keeps suggesting the race will never happen?” (NORTHJERSEY.com, 9/25). In London, Kevin Easton noted cancelling the New Jersey race would “come at in inauspicious time for Formula One, which already has a major job repairing its image with a sceptical American public.” McLaren-Mercedes Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh said, “We’ve got to recognise that we’ve got to work harder at it than probably any market we’ve worked at. We go around parts of Asia, South America and Europe -- one could plonk a grand prix down and there’s a natural fanbase. ... In America, they have lots of great sports they’ve got lots of entertainment opportunities other than Formula One” (THETIMES.co.uk, 9/25).
THUMBS UP: In Austin, John Maher noted Circuit of the Americas “passed its final inspection Tuesday with flying colors.” F1 Race Dir & Safety Delegate Charlie Whiting “not only declared the circuit ready for the U.S. Grand Prix in less than two months, he praised the track’s design and workmanship” (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 9/26).