Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- The National Football League and its regular referees reached a labor agreement two days after a game-ending call that President Barack Obama labeled “terrible” and one player described as “embarrassing.”
The $9.3 billion-a-year league and the NFL Referees Association reached the deal after meeting yesterday and today to settle disagreements that focused on compensation and the continuation of a pension plan that was written into the last labor accord, the NFL said on its website.
Talks resumed after the Seattle Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers Sept. 24 on a controversial last-second touchdown catch. The league’s regular officiating crews, who have been locked out since early June, will work games beginning tomorrow night at Baltimore, ProFootballTalk.com reported.
The 136 replacement officials, who were recruited from the second tier of college football and lower levels, handled the entire preseason schedule amid criticism from coaches and players over missed calls and inaccurate spotting on downs.
The complaints intensified during the first three weeks of the season and culminated in public criticism on the touchdown call this week in Seattle, the last decision made by the replacement referees.
Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang said on his Twitter account that the call, which awarded Seahawks receiver Golden Tate a game-winning touchdown with no time on the clock, was “embarrassing.”
Even though Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings appeared to intercept the ball before Tate reached in, the referees ruled it a simultaneous catch, which goes to the offense under league rules. The call was upheld on video review.
“Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs,” Lang said.
The NFL also used replacement officials for the first week of the 2001 season before reaching a contract agreement.
NFL referees work about 36 hours per week, including meetings the day before a game, crew breakdowns on the day after a game and a test every Thursday, according to Sports Illustrated. Referees receive grades from the league on Tuesday, and can challenge them on Wednesday.
Denver Broncos coaches John Fox and Jack Del Rio were fined a total of $55,000 for berating the replacement referees in Week 2. This week, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined $50,000 and Washington Redskins assistant Kyle Shanahan $25,000 for interactions they had with the officials.
From Hall of Fame players to the Wisconsin governor’s office and all the way to the White House, the NFL was inundated with pleas to settle with the officials’ union and protect the image and integrity of the nation’s most popular sport. Las Vegas bookmakers said the disputed call in the Seattle-Green Bay game caused a $300 million swing in payoffs worldwide.
The day after the game, Paul Haagen, a professor of sports and contract law at Duke University School of Law in Durham, North Carolina, said the latest error could precipitate a faster conclusion to the negotiations.
“Whatever the amounts at stake are, they’re less than the damage they’re doing to their brand,” Haagen said on Sept. 25.
Through the first two weeks of the season, ratings on ESPN NFL broadcasts were roughly the same as last season, according to network spokesman Bill Hofheimer. He and Adam Freifeld, spokesman for Comcast Corp.’s NBC, said in e-mails that they had seen no change in advertising interest, and that viewership is tied more to matchups and the competitiveness of games than any other factor.
Through Week 2, NFL paid attendance at games was “a little more than 65,000 per game,” roughly even with last season, NFL spokesman Dan Masonson said in an e-mail. The league produced the two most-watched shows of last week and the game between the Seahawks and Packers was the most-watched cable program since January, the NFL said in a release.