NFL referees back to work Thursday

Sept. 27, 2012 at 12:58 AM
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NEW YORK, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- The National Football League announced Thursday the lockout of its game officials had ended and regular crews would begin work immediately.

League owners and the game officials reached an agreement on a new contract 48 hours after the $9 billion-a-year business of the NFL took its biggest public relations hit in years as a result of a blown call made by replacement officials.

A crew of the NFL's regular officials will be on hand Thursday night when the Baltimore Ravens host the Cleveland Browns.

"The long-term future of our game requires that we seek improvement in every area, including officiating," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the statement announcing the settlement.

"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."

The new contract will run for eight years through the 2019 season. Retirement benefits, which were a key concern for the officials, will be provided for new hires immediately and for all officials beginning in 2017.

There will be a salary increase from the current average of $149,000 a year to $173,000 in 2013 and $205,000 by 2019.

Replacement officials drawn from small-college football conferences have been working since the NFL locked out the regular officials. Mistakes by the replacements touched off widespread criticism from both players and coaches, causing league officials to levy substantial fines.

The gaffe in Seattle, however, became the breaking point when ridicule was heaped on the league for allowing such a major mistake to occur.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose team was the victim of the mistake in a 14-12 loss to the Seahawks, told a radio audience Tuesday he was apologizing to pro football fans across the nation because the league would not do so.

As part of the new agreement, reported, a developmental program will be put in place to train potential new officials. That program will replace the NFL's previous demand to increase the number of current game officials from 121 to 142.

Those taking part in the developmental program will work with regular officials during the week but will not be assigned to work games.

The incident that appeared to have convinced the NFL an agreement needed to be reached took place on the final play of the Green Bay-Seattle game.

With the Seahawks trailing by 5 points, rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw a desperation pass into the end zone.

Seattle receiver Golden Tate shoved a defender out of the way in hopes of making the catch, but no interference penalty was called. Green Bay's M.D. Jennings made the catch for an apparent interception, after which Tate reached one arm around Jennings in a bid to take the ball away.

Although Jennings clearly had possession, Tate was awarded the catch and the resulting touchdown gave Seattle the win.

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