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).