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Sports

Official End to Lockout, As Refs Approve Contract 112-5

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NFL Referee (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

NFL Referee (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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By SCHUYLER DIXON, Associated Press

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ NFL referees voted and approved a new
eight-year deal with the league on Saturday. Now they all can get
back to the business of calling games.

Referees approved the contract by a 112-5 vote, officially
ending a lockout that led to a rising chorus of complaints from
players, coaches, fans and politicians. The next stop for the refs
who gathered in Irving, Texas, was the airport, where most were to
hop on planes taking them straight to their Sunday game sites.

The deal came quickly after three weeks of escalating
difficulties for league-hired replacement refs, culminating in a
disputed touchdown call that decided Monday night’s
Packers-Seahawks game. With a tentative deal in place, league
referees returned to cheers at Thursday night’s game between
Cleveland and Baltimore.

The tentative contract called for refs’ salaries to increase
from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013,
rising to $205,000 by 2019. The current defined benefit pension
plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016
season or until the official earns 20 years’ 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.

Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option to
hire a number of officials to work year-round. The NFL also will be
able to retain additional officials for training and development
and can assign those officials to work games. The number of
additional officials will be determined by the league.

Monday night’s game ended in chaos after replacement refs called
a touchdown catch for the Seahawks instead of a Packers
interception. Many fans and commentators – and players in the
league – thought the call was botched. Criticism of NFL
commissioner Roger Goodell and the league kept escalating, and the
labor dispute drew public comments from both President Barack Obama
and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. By late Wednesday, both
sides had a deal.

“It’s all history now,” head linesman Tom Stabile said Friday.

“For us, it was a benefit. It may have been the straw that broke
the camel’s back.”

Line judge Jeff Bergman said he could see Monday night’s play
coming as he watched at home. He noticed that players were starting
to take advantage of replacement officials struggling to keep
control of the game.

“The last play of the game was something that was going to
happen sooner or later,” Bergman said. “It gave us and the league
an opportunity to get together and hammer out a deal that was going
to get hammered out anyway.”

Referee Ed Hochuli, who led weekly tests and conference calls
for officials to stay sharp during the lockout, declined to say
whether the replacements made the right call.

“You really don’t want to see that,” Hochuli said. “You don’t
want to see the controversy. You don’t want to see teams lose games
that they shouldn’t have lost, if indeed that’s what happened.
We’re not making a judgment on that.”

Now, the refs have to get used to being fan favorites.

The officials that worked Thursday night’s Ravens-Browns game
were cheered from the moment they walked onto the field. The
difference between the regular crew and replacements was clear. The
officials kept the game in control, curtailing the chippy play and
choppy pace that had marred the first three weeks of the regular
season.

Officials on Friday said they were ready for applause – and
ready for when it inevitably disappears.

“After the euphoria of the moment wears off, probably sometime
early in the second quarter, it’ll be back to regular NFL football
mode,” said referee Gene Steratore, who will head to Green Bay for
Sunday’s game, one week after Packers players ripped the
replacements over Monday’s disputed touchdown. “Players will be
questioning our judgment, our ancestry. Coaches will be screaming
at us. And it’ll be life as back to normal on Sundays.”
___
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and

http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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

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