Heading into the second week of pro football, the NFL and NFL Referees’ Association haven’t restarted negotiations, according to sources close to the NFL and NFLRA.
“I think [the lockout] may have at least another month to go,” said one source close to the NFLRA. “I know a lot of officials who say ‘I don’t care if we sit out the entire season.’” The source declined to be identified to avoid harming their relationship with the NFL and NFLRA.
A source close to the NFL told BuzzFeed Sports there were no talks taking place.
The lack of discussions have come as viewership for games have hit all-time highs, which many say strengthen the league’s position. But it also comes as multiple players, coaches and fans have complained about a variety of egregious errors by replacement referees. Some of the more well known gaffes include when replacement officials incorrectly called the two-minute warning in the Broncos-Steelers game costing the Steelers a time out and a chance to set up a play; giving the Seahawks an extra time out against Arizona and multiple missed offsides, pass interference and fumble calls.
The NFL does not comment on in-game officiating, though Commissioner Roger Goodell praised the replacement officials in an interview with Politico this week. “Officiating isn’t a perfect science — it’s very difficult to officiate, these guys did an outstanding job, we were very pleased with the performance, and they’re going to get better,” he said.
The last NFLRA lockout, which happened at the start of the 2001 season, was resolved after the first week of games. This time, according to the source close to the NFLRA, negotiations are much more hostile. Still, as recently as late August, Goodell stressed the league’s willingness to negotiate, telling NFL.com he was willing to “work all night” to get the officials back to work.
The biggest sticking point for both sides is reported to be a disagreement over officials’ pension programs, which the league wants to change to 401Ks from full-time pensions. According to Goodell, the owners feel that they’re “funding a pension program that is a defined benefit program… It’s something that doesn’t really exist anymore.”
The NFL has said it has also offered the NFLRA a raise up to 11 percent for each individual referee, NFL.com reported early in the dispute.
The NFLRA has argued the NFL is offering raises that are less than agreed upon in the 2006 CBA, adding to the Huffington Post that their sticking point was pensions.
But neither side seems to be close to budging.
“I’ve never seen the union as consolidated and unified as it is now,” the source close to the NFLRA said, adding that the last time the NFLRA was locked out, the union seemed much more fractious. During their hiatus, NFLRA members have been watching tape, participating in conference calls and taking lengthy quizzes to keep their knowledge of the game sharp, the source close to the NFLRA told BuzzFeed.
Their hope, according to the source close to the NFLRA, is that protests from players and coaches and concerns about safety will eventually force the league to fold. But they’ve also heard the NFL’s claims that the replacement officials have been doing a wonderful job. “If that’s all they want,” the source said of the replacement refs, “they can keep it.”