NEW YORK: The NFL will open the regular season next week with replacement officials and said it was prepared to use them “as much ... as necessary” afterward.
Replacements will be on the field beginning Wednesday night when the Dallas Cowboys visit the New York Giants in the season opener, league executive Ray Anderson told the 32 teams in a memo. 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 have gone 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.
The speed of the game and the amount of time starters are on the field increase exponentially for real games, making the replacements’ task more challenging.
Anderson, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, told the clubs in a memo Wednesday that the replacements will work “as much of the regular season as necessary,” adding that training with each crew will continue.
“We are not surprised, based on Ray Anderson’s statements ... that the NFL was not going to reach out to us,” NFLRA spokesman Michael Arnold said. “However, this is consistent with the NFL’s negotiating strategy which has been ‘take it or leave it and lock them out.’
‘‘It now appears the NFL is willing to forgo any attempt to reach a deal in the last seven days before opening night.”
The NFL Players Association expressed disappointment about the decision to use replacements.
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.
“One of our key goals in this negotiation is to enhance our ability to recruit, train, and replace officials who are not performing adequately,” Anderson said.