With no end in sight to the labor dispute between the NFL and its officials, commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday that he is comfortable with the idea of using replacement officials in preseason games.
Goodell said he doesn’t think using officials with less experience will pose a safety risk to players.
”That’s why we’ve been training them for the last two months and why they’re on the field now, is to make sure they’re prepared, they understand the rules,” Goodell said during a visit to Green Bay’s training camp.
Replacement officials were on the field during practice Wednesday and are expected to stay in Green Bay through Friday’s ”Family Night” scrimmage. The Hall of Fame Game between the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints is Sunday.
Members of the NFL Referees Association were locked out in June after talks broke down.
”We are in discussions with them,” Goodell said. ”We’ve had discussions recently. Hopefully we’ll have more discussions with them in the near future. But as you can see, we’re preparing for the season and we will have officials on the field. We hope that the officials from last season will be on the field again this year but to date, we haven’t been able to get an agreement that makes sense for both parties.”
Goodell said the main emphasis in negotiations from the league’s perspective was to find ways to improve officiating.
”We proposed an idea where we could have another 21 officials so we could help train them and have a deeper pool of officials and be able to potentially move them in and out,” Goodell said. ”And that’s something that we’re discussing with the officials. But the whole issue is, how do we continue to improve the officials?”
The purpose for the proposed pool of additional officials hasn’t been clearly defined, but it could become a way for the league to promote and demote officials based on their performance.
Goodell said the league also has offered officials a pay raise as part of negotiations.
”Of course, they’re interested in compensation and benefits, we understand that,” Goodell said. ”We’ve made a proposal we think is fair, with an increase. It’s five to 11 percent per official. We think we’ve been responsive on that, and hopefully we can get something done.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy says he doesn’t have any concerns about the use of replacement officials.
”To me it’s something that everybody has to deal with,” McCarthy said. ”(Supervisor of officials) Ed Coukart is here with the new officials, they worked practice today. We will spend some time tomorrow with the officials in our meetings as we have done annually. We’re just moving forward. We’re getting ready to play games and it’s a business issue. As we know from the past, those things will get worked out, and we’re just focused on our football team.”
Packers players generally seemed unaware of the ongoing labor dispute or the presence of replacement officials; the team usually has a group of local officials, generally with high school experience, present during practice.
”I really don’t pay much attention to those guys, other than the fact that I noticed none of them looked familiar,” guard T.J. Lang said. ”Talking about the refs, I don’t really know what their situation is, so I can’t really speak on that. But whoever they have in there, I’m sure they’re going to get them coached up.”
Joked linebacker Desmond Bishop, ”I had no idea about that. I was too focused on John Madden out there.”
The former Raiders coach and broadcasting icon also was at practice Wednesday.
Goodell also was asked about recent comments from Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy, who said at last week’s shareholders meeting that he couldn’t support an 18-game regular season schedule because of health and safety concerns.
”We haven’t had any discussion about it,” Goodell said. ”Our view was, we were going to have to go through a full cycle of the offseason, training camp. We’ll obviously be done with that shortly and then we’ll get back to really analyzing it and trying to say, `What are the positives and negatives about it?”’
Goodell said he was not sure if the league has received an application for reinstatement from former Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, who is suspended indefinitely for violations of the league’s substance abuse policy.
And with three Packers players – defensive linemen Anthony Hargrove and Mike Neal, along with linebacker Erik Walden – all facing league suspensions once the regular season starts, Goodell was asked whether he sees a trend developing from recent reports of player misconduct.
”Fortunately, the vast majority of our players are terrific,” Goodell said. ”They do the right things on and off the field. And that’s what we encourage. We have rules, we have policies, we want to make sure those are held to the highest standards, because we think our fans deserve it. And so If there’s a violation or there’s a trend, there’s consequences for that.”