The NFL and the NFL Referees Association agreed to an eight-year collective bargaining agreement late Wednesday night that will return the regular game officials to the field for Week-4, beginning Thursday night.
The agreement must still be ratified by the NFLRA membership. NFL owners, however, do not have to vote, as the commissioner has authority to agree to a deal on their behalf.
“We look forward to having the finest officials in sports back on the field,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “And I want to give a special thanks to NFL fans for their passion. Now it's time to put the focus back on the teams and players where it belongs.”
One of the key sticking points on the completion of a deal was what to do with the referees’ retirement package. The NFL had wanted them on the same 401K as its own internal employees—which would have required the officials to make contributions—while the referees wanted to stick with their existing pension plan.
The NFL announced Wednesday that the current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season (or until the official earns 20 years of service). The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.
The eight-year agreement will be the longest for game officials in NFL history.
“The long-term future of our game requires that we seek improvement in every area, including officiating,” Commissioner Goodell said. “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.”
Other key terms of the agreement include the following:
- Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, which will have two elements: an annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.
- Apart from their benefit package, the game officials’ compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
- 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.
- 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. The number of additional officials will be determined by the NFL.
It’s no surprise that the deal comes so quickly off the heels of an apparent blown call on Monday Night Football that cost the Green Bay Packers a win over the Seattle Seahawks. The NFL released a statement on that call Wednesday, defending the temporary referee’s decision, but it was hard to not feel like the League was lying directly to the face of its fan base.
According to a report from ESPN’s Rachel Nichols later Wednesday evening, following the statement, a league source confirmed that Goodell has personally been very upset to see certain missed calls by the temporary officials. “Goodell has been as upset as anyone else has about some of these mistakes,” the league executive told Nichols.
Regardless, the deal comes just in time, as there had been speculation that if a deal was not done in time for Thursday night, it would not then be fair to force two teams to play Week-4 with temporary officials, while having the remainder of the weekend’s games played under the eye of the regular refs.
Perfect timing for Bears fans, too, as the deal comes just one week too late for the Green Bay Packers it would seem . . .