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Automatic First Down: NFL Referees Return To Work Tonight

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 27, 2012 1:45PM

Your nightmare is over, football fans. The National Football League’s locked-out referees return to work starting with tonight’s game between Cleveland and Baltimore.

The NFL and NFLRA agreed to an eight-year contract that still needs to be ratified by the union. Referees will meet Friday and Saturday to vote on the new deal. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell used his authority to temporarily lift the lockout.

Under the terms of the deal, the NFL will hold an option to hire a select number of referees on a full-time basis and retain additional officials for developmental and training purposes. The current pension plan for referees—a major sticking point in the lockout— will remain in place through 2016, or until a referee reached 20 years of service. Retirement benefits for new referee hires, and all officials starting in 2017, will be through a defined contribution agreement consisting of 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. Referee salaries will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013 and $205,000 by 2019.

Goodell said in a statement announcing the agreement:

“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 teams and players where it belongs."

The referees lockout seemed like it was becoming a protracted battle before Monday night’s Green Bay-Seattle game, which ended on a call that had Packers players taking to Twitter to complain about the replacement referees and President Obama say he hoped an end to the lockout was near.

As for the replacement refs, well, you tried.