The NFL will open the regular season with replacement officials. Replacements will be on the field beginning next Wednesday night when the Cowboys visit the Giants to open the season, league executive Ray Anderson told the 32 teams.
Negotiations are at a standstill between the NFL and the officials' union. The NFL Referees Association was locked out in early June and talks on a new collective bargaining agreement went nowhere. Replacements have been used throughout the preseason, with mixed results. In 2001, the NFL used replacements for the first week of the regular season before a contract was finalized.
Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told the clubs in a memo yesterday that the replacements will work "as much of the regular season as necessary."
A request for comment from the referees association was not immediately answered. The NFL Players Association, which of course went through a four-and-a-half month lockout last year before settling on a new contract, expressed disappointment about the decision to use replacements.
Colts safety Antoine Bethea said there is a feeling of solidarity with the officials.
"They've got to do what they've got to do, and we were in a similar situation a little while ago," Bethea said. "So you can't fault those guys for doing what they have to do."
Anderson said the sides remain considerably apart on economic issues, including salary and retirement benefits. He also told the teams there is a substantial difference on operational issues.
The NFL is offering to add three full officiating crews, increasing the total number of officials to 140. The referees association insists the compensation being offered with such an increase would reduce their pay.
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