Apologizing for the Monday night debacle that saw the Seattle Seahawks pick up a controversial win over the Green Bay Packers as the replacement referees bungled a touchdown call and missed an offensive pass interference penalty, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the episode wasn't the final impetus for a new eight-year contract between the league and the NFL Referees Association.
The NFL has lifted the lockout of the regular officials in time for tonight's game between the Ravens and the Cleveland Browns.
"The Monday night game, I don't believe, we were in such intensive negotiations over the last three weeks," Goodell said during a noon conference call. "It might have pushed the parties further along but we were in intense negotiations. You always have costs for the short term but you sometimes have to experience that to get to the right place in the long term.
"And that's sometimes a painful thing. We are sorry to have to put our fans through that, but in the short term it's something you have to do to make sure you get the right type of agreement for the long term. We weren't going to shut down football. It is painful in the process."
As first reported by The Baltimore Sun, the referee for tonight's game is veteran Gene Steratore. Greg Steed is the back judge.
Steratore, who doubles as an NCAA basketball referee, has been an NFL official since 2003 and was promoted to referee in 2006. He worked the Ravens' AFC wild-card playoff victory over the New England Patriots a few seasons ago.
The seven-man crew includes umpire Bill Schuster, head linesman Wayne Mackie, line judge Jeff Seeman, field judge Bob Waggoner, side judge Jimmy De Bell, and back judge Greg Steed.
The replay official is Larry Nemmers and the replay assistant is Ken Dollar.
"Both parties felt comfortable, there was an agreement around 8 o'clock last night, and we discussed how we would get back on the field," Goodell said. "I was very interested in getting back on the field. The logistics of doing that in 24 hours were challenging. I think both parties worked very hard to get that done in the right way, reaching out to Gene, a crew we had identified. The union was also involved.
"I think it's great that Gene is going to be doing the game. He was anxious to do that. He stood up quickly and said he was ready to go. It's a tribute to Gene and the officials in general that they wanted to get back on the field and do what they loved doing and make a contribution to the game."
The NFL announced that the deal, the longest with game officials in league history, was negotiated in New York between the negotiating teams for the NFL and the NFLRA with the assistance of Scot Beckenbaugh and Peter Donatello of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
"Jeff Pash led the negotiations for close to a year," Goodell said. "There were four owners primarily involved. There were strongly held views about certain aspects. We certainly wanted to do everything necessary to improve officiating for the long term. We wanted to create a pool of developmental officials. The pension program was something that needed to be addressed and going to a defined contribution program.
"The officials also had strong views. When you have that conflict, it's a process. I got much more engaged a month ago. The fact that we came out with an eight-year agreement was our primary concern and that's good for the game. It was painful for everybody and painful for the fans in the short term."
Goodell was asked about the performance of the replacement officials, which drew hefty criticism: "The folks on the field were under unprecedented scrutiny. They kept the game going. I don't believe it created a greater risk to player safety."
When asked specifically about the Seattle-Green Bay game, Goodell replied: "It's unfortunate. When you see any controversial play, we want to see games properly officiated. Mistakes do happen. We're trying to limit those mistakes. It's not realistic to think officiating will be perfect. There are controversial calls and people see them differently. That's the beauty of sports."
Although the deal still has to be ratified by the NFLRA membership, Goodell has the power to strike the deal without a vote of the NFL ownership.
The officials will meet Friday and Saturday to vote on the agreement. If it is approved, a clinic for the officials will be held following the vote.
The bottom line is the regular officials are back and the replacement officials, many of whom were from the Lingerie Football League and lower-level college ranks, are gone.
"The long-term future of our game requires that we seek improvement in every area, including officiating,” Goodell said in a statement. “This agreement supports long-term reforms that will make officiating better. The teams, players and fans want and deserve both consistency and quality in officiating.
“We look forward to having the finest officials in sports back on the field, and I want to give a special thanks to NFL fans for their passion. Now it's time to put the focus back on the teams and players where it belongs."
The NFL announced the following terms to the deal:
- Eight-year term covering the 2012-2019 seasons.
- The current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 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 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, which will have two elements: an annual league contribution made on behalf of each game 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.
- Apart from their benefit package, the game officials’ compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
- "The economics had to work for the officials, the economics had to work for the owners," Goodell said. "You can't always force it. It's a process."
- Beginning with the 2013 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.
- The NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the NFL.
- "'This wasn't all about economics," Goodell said. "It's critical to develop younger officials."