NFL football referees reach pay deal to end lock-out

Uproar over controversial touchdown

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The National Football League has made a tentative deal to end a long-running pay and pensions dispute with referees.

The referees' union is expected to vote on whether to ratify the agreement at the weekend, with officials returning to work on Thursday.

A lock-out of the referees began in June, and the NFL drafted in replacement officials to handle games.

But they were largely inexperienced and have been heavily criticised for missing big calls in recent games.

On Monday, the Seattle Seahawks were awarded a game-winning touchdown in the dying seconds of the game, but commentators said it should have been disallowed because of an interception by a Green Bay Packers defensive player.

'Glad to be back'

Amid the uproar, representatives from the league and union entered marathon negotiations on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Start Quote

Would you let a Toyota dealership work on your brand new Rolls-Royce?”

End Quote Gerald Sensabaugh Dallas Cowboys player

Referees, who have been locked out of officiating since June, were negotiating over salaries and pensions.

The deal reportedly involves the NFL allowing for current pension arrangements to be maintained until the 2016 season, with new hires joining a higher-risk retirement plan.

Beginning next year, the league will also be able to replace referees who are deemed to be underperforming.

The 121 members of the union will officially vote on the deal at the weekend, but the NFL temporarily suspended the lock-out so officials would be able to work at the Thursday night game.

"We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games," said referees' union president Scott Green.

After three weeks of the regular season, some NFL players and managers have not been impressed by the replacement referees.

On Wednesday, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was fined $50,000 (£30,900) by the league for grabbing a replacement official's arm after his team's loss to the Baltimore Ravens at the weekend.

NFL referees deal

  • Pay rise from $149,000 (£92,000) a year to $173,000 in 2013, and to $205,000 by 2019
  • Pensions will remain in place for current officials until 2016
  • New hires will be enrolled in a 401(k) programme, a higher risk retirement plan
  • Current officials are part-time, the NFL will now be able to hire full-time referees and assign them to games

Mr Belichick said he was simply trying to find out if there would be a review of a kick which many of his players felt went wide above the goalpost.

"Would you let a Toyota dealership work on your brand new Rolls-Royce? That doesn't work right, does it?" Dallas Cowboys players Gerald Sensabaugh said on Wednesday.

"Our brand is so big, it's so important to a lot of people. There's no way you can have guys that don't have experience at that level."

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said: "Maybe it's not just the officials. We're putting them in tough situations and it can't be easy."

Many of the replacements had previously worked in lower-division college games and in minor professional organisations, including a women-only league whose players compete wearing lingerie.

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