Sep 26, 2012
The NFL and the NFL Referee's Association reached an agreement late Wednesday night that will end the lockout and enable regular referees to work Week 4 games.
The agreement was confirmed by NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, who tweeted shortly after midnight: “Pleased to report that an agreement has been reached with the NFL Referees Association. Details to follow.”
The deal is reportedly for eight years and is expected to be signed by early Thursday morning, with a regular referee crew being assembled to work Thursday night's game in Baltimore between the Ravens and Cleveland Browns.
“Our officials will be back on the field starting tomorrow night,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a joint statement released by the NFL and NFLRA. “We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement.”
The new deal must be ratified by 121 officials and accepted by the NFLRA's board of directors, but the agreement will allow for a crew to work Thursday night's game. Houston-based referee Walter Anderson told The Houston Chronicle that officials must ratify the agreement in Dallas on Friday, get their uniforms and handle administrative duties before leaving for their game assignments.
“Our Board of Directors has unanimously approved taking this proposed CBA to the membership for a ratification vote,” NFLRA president Scott Green said in the joint statement. “We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games.”
The barriers in the negotiations began to break down during intense negotiations that lasted until 2 a.m. Wednesday, when there was apparently agreement on a developmental program for backup officials. The sides continued to talk throughout Wednesday, and worked through a main roadblock when they reportedly agreed to a pension setup in which the current defined-benefit plan will remain in place for five years before switching over to a 401(k) plan.
The pension plan had been one of the main issues, with both sides fighting not to make further concessions.
Ed Hochuli, the NFL official best known for his big biceps, has made sure the officials are mentally ready, according to an official source cited by SI.com's Peter King. Hochuli has conducted tests with the officials each week similar to those they go through when working, helping to keep them abreast of rules changes and interpretations.
“That's one of the reasons why the officials will be up to date and ready to go,” the officiating source told King. “Ed grabbed the bull by the horns and made sure that whenever this thing ended, the regular officials would be ready to go back to work immediately.”
The league is reportedly prepared to forgo the referee's typical physical in order to get them on the field for this week's games.
The reported agreement on backup officials involves a developmental program to be created as a compromise to the NFL's insistence that 21 officials be added to the current pool of 121 NFLRA members, an NFLRA source told NFL.com, though the money for the existing officials won't increase.
The 21 backup officials won't become members of the NFLRA, but will join a developmental program and be trained to work NFL games. They will be mentored, by NFL crews during the week, but won't work games and won't be eligible to be subbed out.
As the referees improve, they'll be considered for NFLRA membership, with the financial allotment being adjusted to reflect any new members.
The sides agreed that it was crucial to have more qualified refs available when circumstances arise outside of football, such as personal reasons. Also, referee retirement plans remains an issue, but an NFLRA source told NFL.com that the officials moved a bit off their position Tuesday.
According to Albert Breer, this week's negotiations included 8-9 hours on Saturday and Sunday, followed by phone conversations Monday. A 17-hour session Tuesday was followed by more than 14 hours of talks Wednesday before the agreement was finally reached.