The impasse between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association is over, and the mistake-prone replacement officials can go back where they came from.
The lockout has been lifted with the final straw appearing to be the controversial ending to the Seattle Seahawks' win over the Green Bay Packers on Monday night with the officials failing to call offensive pass interference on Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate.
A new eight-year collective bargaining agreement was reached in time for the regular officials to work the Ravens' Thursday night game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium as well as the rest of this week's schedule.
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Early indications point toward Gene Steratore, of Washington, Pa., operating as the referee tonight with Greg Steed, who's from Washington, D.C., as 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.
Last season, Steratore's usual NFL officiating crew was made up of umpire Bill Schuster, head linesman Wayne Mackie, line judge Ron Marinucci, field judge Bob Waggoner, side judge Mike Weatherford and back judge Dino Paganelli.
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.
"Our officials will be back on the field starting tomorrow night," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement."
"Our Board of Directors has unanimously approved taking this proposed CBA to the membership for a ratification vote,” said Scott Green, the president of the NFL Referees Association. “We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week’s games."
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 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.
- 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.
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.