Roger Goodell’s words couldn’t have sounded more heartfelt.
“Obviously, when you go through something painful like this, it’s painful for everybody,” Goodell said of the NFL’s negotiations with the no longer locked out officials. “Most importantly, it’s painful for our fans. We are sorry to have to put our fans through that, but it’s something, in the short term, you have to do to get the kind of agreement for the long term and continue to grow the game.”
However, Commissioner Goodell wouldn’t say outright that the Green Bay Packers should have been awarded an interception, a determination that would have avoided Monday night’s fiasco in Seattle.
Goodell, however, clearly stated the botched call — actually two on the Seahawks game-winning Hail Mary — did one thing.
“It may have pushed the parties further along,” he told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. “We were really in intensive negotiations the last few weeks.”
The league and the NFL Referees Association came to an agreement early Thursday morning to end a lockout that began in June and resulted in replacement officials in the preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season. Missed penalties and misinterpretation of the rules followed, calls that infuriated players, coaches and fans alike.
Of course, there was no better example than when the replacement crew missed a clear offensive pass interference call on Seattle receiver Golden Tate and what appeared to be an interception by Packers safety M.D. Jennings. Tate, however, was given credit for the touchdown and the Seahawks won 14-12.
Goodell said he didn’t closely examine the disputed play from Monday Night Football, but added the missed pass interference call “was clearly a mistake.” The interception? Goodell said that “was a close call.”
“That’s the beauty of sports and the beauty of officiating, is that there are controversial calls and people see them differently,” Goodell said. “I understand that. That’s the beauty of sports.”
The regular officials are back starting with Thursday night’s game Cleveland Browns-Baltimore Ravens game with a crew headed by 10-year veteran Gene Steratore. Goodell said the decision to push regular officials into service so quickly — normally a process that includes added training and physicals — was made Wednesday night as the two sides inched toward an agreement.
“Of course, I was very interested in (getting the regular officials) back on the field as quickly as possible,” Goodell said. “The logistics of being able to do that within 24 hours was challenging. I think both parties worked very hard to make sure that got done.”
The new eight-year agreement runs through the 2019 season and includes:
— Current officials will keep their pension plan through the 2016 season (or until the official has 20 years of service accumulated) before the plan is frozen. After that, the pension will be converted into a 401k.
— Average pay will increase from $149,000 (the average from a season ago) to $205,000 by the end of the agreement.
— The NFL will be able to hire full-time officials to accompany the current crop, which are able to hold full-time jobs.
“This wasn’t all about economics,” Goodell said. “Clearly, the pension was one of those economic issues. Getting to the point of full-time officiating was one of the last items discussed last night. That was the last piece of the agreement, to move to full-time officiating on a limited basis. It’s new. It’s different. I think that’s positive development.”