It’s good! NFL and refs reach agreement after month of misery

Referee Don King reviews a play between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 23, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.   (AFP Photo / Getty Images / Chris Graythen)
After nearly a month of confusion and botched calls in the NFL, the league and the Referees Association agreed Wednesday night to put official refs back on the field. Fans and players alike breathed a sigh of relief at the decision.


“We look forward to having the finest officials in sports back on the field,”
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement, following two days of marathon negotiations between the referees’ union and the NFL. The new eight-year referee contract is the longest in NFL history, ending a lockout that has persisted since June. The NFL employed inexperienced ‘replacement referees’ to officiate games during the first three weeks of the season.

Negotiations stalled over two key issues. First, the NFL wanted to hire a ‘bench’ of 20 additional referees to replace underperforming ones; current refs feared that the move would lead to layoffs. The second point was a proposal by the NFL to transition from traditional retirement pensions for referees to 401k packages.

The new agreement gave the NFL the right to hire the additional refs, while guaranteeing existing referees their retirement pensions. New referees will be offered 401k packages instead. The Referees Association will vote on Friday to ratify the agreement, and the lockout will be temporarily lifted to allow regular officials to work during a Thursday night game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns.

The NFL has used replacement referees before, but never with such poor results. Three weeks of confusion and botched calls on fields across the US drew harsh criticism from fans and players, and led the commissioner’s office and the referees’ union to speed up negotiations in an attempt to return some legitimacy to an already irreparably tarnished season of American football.

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The worst call in history?

Tensions over what is already being called ‘ref-gate’ culminated on Monday night in a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, when replacement referees made an incorrect call and handed the game to Seattle. The call in question concerned a 24-yard pass into the Green Bay end zone to Seahawks receiver Golden Tate – the refs called a touchdown, giving the Seahawks the lead with only seconds to go on the game clock.

Photos and instant replays clearly showed Packer safety M.D. Jennings leaping into the air above Tate to intercept the pass, clutching the ball to his chest in a clean play. On the way down, Tate attempted to wrestle the ball away from Jennings. In photos of the play, two replacement officials are seen standing over the scrum – one signaling touchdown, the other interception – in an apt metaphor for the wider confusion that has engulfed the NFL.

The outrage among fans and players was loud, and justified; if the play had been called as an interception, the Packers would have won instead. In a sport where teams only play 16 regular season games, every victory or loss takes on outsized importance. If the Seahawks make the playoffs by one game – or if the Packers miss the playoffs by one game – fans of either team will shake their fists furiously.

Wide receiver Golden Tate #81 of the Seattle Seahawks makes a catch in the end zone to defeat the Green Bay Packers on a controversial call by the officials at CenturyLink Field on September 24, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. (AFP Photo / Getty Images/ Otto Greule Jr)
Wide receiver Golden Tate #81 of the Seattle Seahawks makes a catch in the end zone to defeat the Green Bay Packers on a controversial call by the officials at CenturyLink Field on September 24, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. (AFP Photo / Getty Images/ Otto Greule Jr)

Green Bay Packers guard TJ Lang sounded off about the incident immediately on Twitter. His furious one-liners, like “F*** it NFL.. Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs,” have already earned around 150,000 re-tweets combined.

Las Vegas oddsmakers said that over 300 million dollars changed hands over the blown call, hardly chump change. One Las Vegas Casino even offered refunds for gamblers who bet money on the game.

"I know exactly how it would feel if I was laying the number and I saw what happened,'' Derek Stevens, owner of the D Las Vegas Casino told the AP. He said he was ''disgusted'' with the ruling, and that he refused to accept the outcome.

“I want to give a special thanks to NFL fans for their passion. Now it's time to put the focus back on the teams and players where it belongs,” Commissioner Goodell said in his statement. Time will tell if that ‘focus’ is enough to salvage an already controversial season.


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