After months of negotiating and terrible officiating for the first three weeks of the season, the NFL and the referees union have come to an agreement and they were back out on the field last night for the Thursday Night Football contest between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. Fortunately for fans, players and everyone involved, this dispute didn't carry late into the season. Although some suspect the NFL's had was forced due to inadequate and even - at times - dangerous ineptitude from the replacement refs, the league and its officials came to terms and are back in action.
As a result, Roger Goodell issued a statement to the public via email explaining the NFL's stance on the negotiations and to welcome back the "real" referees. You can read the statement below.
To NFL Fans:
The National Football League is at its best when the focus is on the players and the action on the field, not on labor negotiations.
All of us who love the sport appreciate the skills and dedication of the players and coaches. That is why we are focused not just on what happens on the field but what our game will be like in another decade or two. The NFL has always tried to look ahead, to innovate, and to constantly improve in all we do.
We recognize that some decisions may be difficult to accept in the passion of the moment, but my most important responsibility is to improve the game for this generation and the next.
I believe in accountability, not excuses. And I regret we were not able to secure an agreement sooner in the process and avoid the unfortunate distractions to the game. You deserve better.
As a lifelong fan, this wasn't an easy process for anyone involved. I particularly want to commend the replacement officials for taking on an unenviable task and doing it with focus and dedication in the most adverse of circumstances.
Our new agreement gives long-term stability to an important aspect of our game, officiating. More important, with this agreement, officiating will be better in the long run. While the financial issues received the most attention, these negotiations were much more about long-term reforms. For example, beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field. In addition, the NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games.
We are moving forward with the finest officials in sports back on the field. It's time to put the focus where it belongs – on the clubs and players and our magnificent game, with a special thanks to our fans for their passion.