SAN DIEGO, September 27, 2012 – Experienced NFL referees will be back on the field of play Thursday night for the Cleveland Browns game with the Ravens in Baltimore, thanks in large part to the pressure put on by the blown call in the end zone giving the Seattle Seahawks a win over the Green Bay Packers on Monday night.
The National Football League and the NFL Referees Association reached a tentative eight-year agreement late Wednesday night in New York. The organizations released a joint statement:
“The NFL and the NFL Referees Association agreed tonight to the terms of a new 8-year collective bargaining agreement that will return the game officials to the field for this weekend’s games, beginning with Thursday night’s Cleveland at Baltimore game.”
While the agreement still has to be ratified by the NFLRA membership, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can accept the agreement on behalf of the NFL, without any concurrence through a vote by the owners.
And at this point, the owners aren’t going to get in the way of getting the regular refs back on the field.
Commissioner Goodell temporarily lifted the lockout so that the officials can work Thursday night’s game before their ratification vote takes place, which isn’t expected to happen until Friday or Saturday.
“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.
“We look forward to having the finest officials in sports back on the field, 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 players where it belongs.”
Almost immediately upon word reaching the fans, “Ed Hochuli” became a trending topic on Twitter. He may be the only NFL referee fans actually know by name. We certainly do in San Diego, though his name is an infamous part of San Diego Chargers history. It was on September 14, 2008 that Hochuli made the call in a game between the Chargers and the Denver Broncos that reigned as the worst referee screw-up ever until Monday night’s chaos in Seattle.
Like the Monday night game, the outcome was on the line in the last few moments. Bronco quarterback Jay Coulter appeared to fumble the ball and it was recovered by the Chargers. But Hochuli ruled it an incomplete pass and blew his whistle during the play, rendering it a dead ball.
Because of the NFL’s rules, the fact that Hochuli has blown his whistle and the ball was dead meant the fumble recovery was taken away from the Chargers, even though Hochuli admitted right away he’d blown his whistle by mistake. The Broncos went on to score, completed a two point conversion and won 39-38. Bolts fans were in an uproar and a snit all season, and we still haven’t gotten over it.
So we feel for you, Packers fans. The truth is that good, experienced referees blow calls from time to time, too. They just don’t do it every single week. And there was no way the NFL could withstand the furor of the fans growing week by week, game after game due to poor officiating.
But make no mistake. The pressure to bring the refs back wasn’t because the fans had become so angry they weren’t watching. Ratings for NFL football on TV have never been higher. There wasn’t a drop in ticket sales. The furor is over the havoc being wrecked on the betting lines in Las Vegas and the chaos suffered by the oddsmakers. Safety is also an issue, with player injuries being increasingly blamed on poor officiating, such as the concussion suffered by Oakland Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey which looked as if if would be far worse. Of course, injured players can really screw up a fantasy football team.
Associated Press reports the agreement would be in place through 2019. It will preserve the current defined pension benefit for current officials through the 2016 season, or until an official has 20 years of service. The defined benefit plan will then be frozen, and new hires beginning in 2016 will move to a defined contribution retirement plan, with a minimum annual league contribution and a partial match on additional contributions that an official makes to his 401(k) account. This is the same kind of pension reform sweeping state and local governments and private organizations across the country.
Officials will get a raise from an average $149,000 salary in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, and to $205,000 by 2019. This is a small amount compared to the minimum salaries for the players.
Starting next year, 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 NFL will determine the number of additional officials.
Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak said he thought it might take a while before things return to normal, even with the regular refs.
“It’s going to be hard for officials to come back since not doing a game since last December, a lot of them, and all of a sudden they’re doing a game. I think it’s going to be a tough transition either way. You want things to get settled. You want the best people to be out there, the guys who’ve been doing it a lot of years.”
Hochuli has reportedly been conducting training drills using weekly rules tests for about 100 officials via conference calls on a weekly basis, as reported by Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports.com, so the regular officials would be ready to go back to work immediately upon the end of the strike.
Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey had a simple solution for all the recent angst.
“The biggest thing, if you get a big enough lead, it won’t come down to a call,” he said. “Go get big leads and it won’t be an issue.”
The Associated Press and its reporters contributed to this report.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She writes on professional cycling and covers the Sweet Science for Communities, along with other news in the sports world. Read more Ringside Seat in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
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