The NFL used replacement players in the past because of labor strife. The same may be happening with its current cast of officials.
According to a letter obtained by FOXSports.com, the NFL has asked its officiating-scouting department to begin assisting the league in identifying potential replacements for the 2012 season. The move comes as the league and the NFL Referees Association have reached an impasse in labor negotiations.
The agreement between the two sides expired at the end of the 2011 season.
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“Negotiations are ongoing, and should the two sides reach an agreement in the near future, there will be no need to hire additional officials,” wrote Ron Baynes, who is the NFL’s director of recruiting officials. “This is a contingency plan to make sure the NFL season will continue on schedule as planned.”
Baynes has suggested his scouts target officials who recently retired from college officiating as well as current “lower-division college, professional league and semi-professional league officials whose window of opportunity for advancement has pretty much closed but who have the ability to work higher levels but just got overlooked.”
The NFL used replacement officials in 2001 during the final preseason and first regular-season games. The league and NFL Referees Association then reached agreement on a new five-year labor pact shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 caused a temporary postponement of the NFL season.
It’s believed that the annual salary of NFL officials ranged from $70,000 to $140,000 under the previous labor deal. While that is a lower figure than their peers in the NBA and NHL, NFL referees work a lighter schedule, calling 20 games a year prior to the playoffs. Most NFL officials also hold full-time jobs in other fields. However, NFL referees spend countless numbers of hours each year reviewing rules and game video to stay sharp in their craft.
By preparing to hire replacements, the NFL would potentially gain leverage in negotiations with the referee’s union. But using those replacements may not be popular with fans or players, especially considering the high scrutiny that the position is constantly under and the league’s push for improved safety. For example, NFL officials are told to monitor players for concussion symptoms during games.
“Our negotiations with the referees association are continuing and we are optimistic that there will be a successful resolution,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told FOXSports.com in an email Wednesday night.