Sports

NFL Refs Headed Back To Field

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NFL Referee (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

NFL Referee (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ The NFL and the referees’ union have reached a
tentative contract agreement, ending an impasse that began in June
when the league locked out the officials and used replacements
instead.

The NFL said it planned to have regular refs work Thursday
night’s Cleveland-Baltimore game.

With Commissioner Roger Goodell at the table, the sides
concluded two days of talks at midnight Thursday with the
announcement of a tentative 8-year deal, which must be ratified by
the union’s 121 members.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello tweeted “Pleased to report that an
agreement has been reached with the NFL Referees Association.
Details to follow.”

The replacements worked the first three weeks of games,
triggering a wave of frustration that threatened to disrupt the
rest of the season. After a missed call cost the Green Bay Packers
a win on a chaotic final play at Seattle on Monday night, the two
sides really got serious.

It was not certain who would work this week’s games, but ESPN
reported regular refs will work Thursday night with Baltimore
hosting Cleveland.

The union was seeking improved salaries, retirement benefits and
other logistical issues for the part-time officials. The NFL has
proposed a pension freeze and a higher 401(k) match, and it wants
to hire 21 more officials to improve the quality of officiating.
The union has fought that, fearing it could lead to a loss of jobs
for some of the current officials, as well as a reduction in
overall compensation.

The NFL claimed its offers have included annual pay increases
that could earn an experienced official more than $200,000 annually
by 2018. The NFLRA has disputed the value of the proposal,
insisting it means an overall reduction in compensation.

Replacement refs aren’t new to the NFL. They worked the first
week of games in 2001 before a deal was reached. But those
officials came from the highest level of college football; the
current replacements do not. Their ability to call fast-moving NFL
games drew mounting criticism through Week 3, climaxing last
weekend, when ESPN analyst Jon Gruden called their work “tragic
and comical.”

Those comments came during “Monday Night Football,” with
Seattle beating Green Bay 14-12 on a desperation pass into the end
zone on the final play. Packers safety M.D. Jennings had both hands
on the ball in the end zone, and when he fell to the ground in a
scrum, both Jennings and Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had their
arms on the ball.

The closest official to the play, at the back of the end zone,
signaled for the clock to stop, while another official at the
sideline ran in and then signaled touchdown.

The NFL said in a statement Tuesday that the touchdown pass
should not have been overturned _ but acknowledged Tate should have
been called for offensive pass interference before the catch. The
league also said there was no indisputable evidence to reverse the
call made on the field.

That drew even louder howls of outrage. Some coaches, including
Miami’s Joe Philbin and Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, tried to restore
some calm by instructing players not to speak publicly on the
issue.

Fines against two coaches for incidents involving the
replacements were handed out Wednesday.

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was docked $50,000 for
trying to grab an official’s arm Sunday to ask for an explanation
of a call after his team lost at Baltimore. And Washington
offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was tagged for $25,000 for what
the league called “abuse of officials” in the Redskins’ loss to
Cincinnati on Sunday. Two other coaches, Denver’s John Fox and
assistant Jack Del Rio, were fined Monday for incidents involving
the replacements the previous week.

“I accept the discipline and I apologize for the incident,”
Belichick said.

Players were in no mood for apologies from anyone.

“I’ll probably get in trouble for this, but you have to have
competent people,” Carolina receiver Steve Smith said. “And if
you’re incompetent, get them out of there.”

Added Rams quarterback Sam Bradford: “I just don’t think it’s
fair to the fans, I don’t think it’s fair to us as players to go
out there and have to deal with that week in and week out. I really
hope that they’re as close as they say they are.”

They were. Finally.
___
AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds in Miami, Steve Reed in
Charlotte, and R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this
story.
___
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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