After Further Review: Owners fumble, Refs score

By Cody Nichelson

And a collective sigh of relief came from the fans, players and coaches of the NFL on Thursday morning.

It only took one major debacle during a nationally televised Monday Night Football game, 70,000 voice mails on Roger Goodell’s phone and a shift of $150-250 million in bets, but the regular referees took the field on Thursday night for the first time in the 2012 NFL season.

Late Wednesday night, the NFL and the officials’ union announced that an eight-year collective bargaining agreement had been reached.

The agreement must be ratified by at least 51 percent of the NFLRA membership. However, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell temporarily lifted the lockout so the officials could call the Thursday night game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.

The officials will meet Friday and Saturday to vote on the agreement.

The announcement of the deal and official joint statement from the NFL and NFLRA came after hours of negotiations on Tuesday and Wednesday following the highly controversial call in Seattle that resulted in a win for the Seahawks rather than what should have been a victory for the Packers.

The eight-year deal is the longest in league history.

Some of the key details of the deal include maintaining the current defined benefit pension plan for current officials through the 2016 season, retirement benefits for new hires, an option for the NFL to hire a number of officials on a full-time basis starting in 2013. There is also an increase in officials’ compensation from an average of $149,000 in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013 and $205,000 by 2019.

The conditions agreed upon indicate that NFL executives and team owners were anxious to have the regular officials back on the field.

Prior to the details of the CBA being released, and in the days leading up to the horrendous call on Monday, the league and the officials’ union seemed to be far apart on the most important issues.

The owners wanted to eliminate the pension package, maintain the salary levels from 2011 and hire a number of officials full-time.

Arguably, the officials scored victories on all of these issues: the pension package will not be eliminated for current officials until 2017 at the earliest, the average salary increased and will continue to increase over the next seven years and no officials will work on a full-time basis until 2013.

The officials’ victory expanded well beyond the bargaining table, however.

Essentially every  major television network’s morning show led with the NFL and NFLRA agreement.

A quick round-up of front-page headlines from major markets highlight the importance of the eight-year deal. The Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Green Bay Press-Gazette, New York Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Tampa Bay Times and others made this story the most prominent for Thursday’s issue.

All headlines shed the deal in a positive light.

Even better, Goodell apologized to fans and praised the officials.

“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,” Goodell said.

And oh by the way, the officials for Thursday night’s game were greeted with a standing ovation when they walked onto the field in Baltimore.

No one knows what the extent of the damage from the first three weeks will have on the remainder of the season. And only time will tell when the regular officials will be criticized for missed calls.

But for now, everyone is cheering.

For complete details on the new collective bargaining agreement and more reaction from players, coaches and Goodell, click here.

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