The era of replacement referees is over after the National Football League and its officials’ union reached an agreement late last night to end the league’s lockout. The deal, which follows months of fighting between the two sides and a lockout that kept officials off the field for all preseason games and the first three weeks of the NFL season, came amidst fan and player outrage about a blown call on Monday Night Football that changed the outcome of a game.
That was hardly the first blown call the replacement officials made, and it was nowhere near the most dangerous. But it got the NFL’s owners back to the negotiating table, and a deal was announced almost two days to the hour after the call was made. Here’s a breakdown of the key issues in the deal:
Pensions: Pensions arose as a main sticking point in the negotiations, as the NFLRA fought to keep its pension while the NFL wanted to switch the officials to a 401(k)-based plan. In the end, the two sides compromised. Current officials will keep their pension plan until after the 2016 season, while new officials will immediately enter into a 401(k) plan. After 2016, pensions for current officials will freeze and they will enter into the 401(k) plan as well.
Compensation: NFL officials will receive compensation increases over the life of the eight-year collective bargaining agreement, with average compensation rising from $149,000 in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013 and $205,000 by the end of the agreement in 2019.
Full-time officials: NFL officials currently work part-time during the 17-week season (and playoffs), but the NFL will now have the option to hire a certain number of full-time officials to work year-round. The major cause of concern for the NFLRA when it came to full-time officials was how it would change compensation, since officials are currently paid out of a collective pool. The league can also hire and train additional officials “for training and development purposes;” those officials could also work games if necessary.
There are still details to be worked out. The lockout was temporarily lifted to allow professional officials to work tonight’s game between Baltimore and Cleveland, but the NFLRA still has to ratify the deal this weekend (it is expected to do so). In the short-term, it appears the officials got what they wanted: their pension is still intact, and they successfully won the public relations battle against the league. But while all of the details have yet to emerge, this seems like a long-term winner for the NFL, as the league got what it wanted with the eventual elimination of the defined-benefit pension.
The outline of the deal makes the entire fiasco involving the replacement officials seem even more unnecessary than it already was, since the NFL’s major points of concern were all addressed: it got its full-time officials, it got its back-up pool of officials, and it got its pension reforms, even if it has to wait a few years for it to be fully eliminated. By the beginning of the season, the NFLRA, according to its public statements, had already offered to bend on each of those issues.
So in the end, the NFL jeopardized player safety, allowed replacement officials to change the outcome of at least one game, took a major public relations hit, and lost the respect of fans, players, and coaches, all to get what it probably could have had before the season even started.