|Replacement officials pose for a photo prior to a preseason game over the weekend. (Getty Images)|
There has been much metaphorical gnashing of teeth and rending of garments in recent days because the first week of preseason games featured replacement officials. And while there were mistakes -- just like every other week in the NFL -- there was nothing so egregious that merited the league's prompt re-examination of its situation with the locked-out officials.
In fact, the lockout could last into the first month of the regular season, according to an ESPN report. Which means that the replacements are here to stay -- at least for the next six weeks or so. But this is about more than just pay raises and pensions. There are other sticking points that appear to be holding things up.
First, the NFL wants to make its officials work full time. Currently, officials have other full-time jobs and work three or four days a week during the season preparing for games. (For example, Ed Hochuli is an attorney and Mike Carey owns a company that manufacturers ski and snowboard equipment.) ESPN reports that more than 90 percent of those officials aren't willing to leave their full-time jobs or the salaries that go with them.
Second, the league wants to add three additional officiating crews. The thinking: a bigger pool of officials means better-rested officials, and a system for grooming successors for older officials. The locked-out officials oppose the idea.
Meanwhile, the replacement officials already have their assignments for Week 2 of the preseason, and Week 3's assignments were sent out Monday. And if there's no movement between the locked-out officials and the NFL, this could drag on into the regular season.
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The league also believes that now that the replacement officials, who have been training with the league for the past three months, will be better suited to handle the pressure of the NFL with experience this past weekend. As one league executive in the officiating department said, just as teams are forced to start rookies in the preseason, the league is being forced to do the same, and just as teams' rookies often perform better as the preseason goes on, so will the officials.
One source familiar with the stalled negotiations estimated that the two sides would not resolve their differences until the third week of the regular season. His feelings on the state of the talks provide a snapshot of how far apart the two sides are.
Despite the lack of any glaring mistakes, players haven't hidden the fact that they've been wholly unimpressed with the replacements. The league sent a memo to all 32 teams instructing them to avoid criticizing the officials, which went over about as well as Kevin Kolb's 2012 preseason debut.
Former vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said two weeks ago during a radio interview that the replacement officials threatened the integrity of the game.
"You know, we all criticize officials and I'm guilty of that too," he said on the Dan Patrick Show. "But you have the 120 best in the country that have 1,400 years of experience -- they're going to be sitting on the sidelines and not working these games. And to me, it strongly compromises the integrity of the game because the officials with 1,400 years of experience aren't perfect. They actually make as many as five mistakes per game … it demonstrates how hard it is."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's response: "We've been working with our officials and we'll hopefully have an agreement but if we don't, we're prepared to go with the replacements."
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