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Lockout over! NFL, refs reach agreement; refs back on Thursday

Updated: October 29, 2012 6:44AM

The NFL reached an eight-year agreement with the NFL Referees Association late Wednesday to end the lockout of officials, a league spokesman announced.

The NFL’s officiating crew is expected to quickly mobilize and be in place for Week 4’s slate, which begins with the 0-3 Cleveland Browns facing the 2-1 Baltimore Ravens Thursday night.

“The long-term future of our game requires that we seek improvement in every area, including officiating,” Commissioner Roger 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 teams and players where it belongs.”

Added NFLRA president Scott Green, “We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week’s games.”

The deal was struck a little more than 48 hours too late for the Green Bay Packers.

On Monday night, in Seattle, the Packers were outraged when the replacement referees ruled the game’s final play – a Hail Mary from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to former Notre Dame receiver Golden Tate – a touchdown. One replacement official signaled touchback, believing Packers safety M.D. Jennings had intercepted the pass but another signaled touchdown, believing Tate had simultaneous control.

The on-field ruling was a touchdown and an NFL-employed replay official upheld the call, essentially giving the Seahawks a 14-12 victory.

Given Monday Night Football audience, the ending elicited strong reactions from ESPN’s own broadcasters, to Packer players and, on Tuesday morning, President Obama.

The league upheld the decision, although they conceded that Tate should have been flagged for offensive pass interference for shoving cornerback Sam Shields to the ground just as the ball was approaching him.

The Bears play next Monday in Dallas against the Cowboys.

The agreement between officials and the NFL is the longest in league history and was hammered out in New York with the help of Peter Donatello of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. That organization was involved in trying to bridge the gap between the NFL and NFL Players Association before a 10-year deal was finally completed.

Among the key details are:

◆ The current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season (or until the official earns 20 years of service). The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.

◆ Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, which will have two elements: an annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.

◆ Apart from their benefit package, the game officials’ compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013 and $205,000 by 2019.

◆ Beginning with the 2013 season, 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.

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