Thursday, September 06, 2001

It's decision day for NFL, refs

AP Football Writer

        NEW YORK — The NFL's offer is on the table. If its officials don't take it, they might not be working games for quite a while.

        The league upped its offer to the locked-out officials Wednesday from a 40 percent raise in the first year of its contract to a 60 percent raise, and gave them 24 hours to respond. If they don't accept it, the league said it would go with replacement officials.

        “We have to make plans Thursday to get officials to the game,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

        There was no word of the outcome of the conference call Thursday involving Tom Condon, the negotiator for the officials, and the four-man board for the group — Ed Hochuli, Bill Carollo, Jeff Bergman and Ben Montgomery.

        NFL executives, knowing Hochuli is the hard-liner, were hopeful the other three would overrule him.

        Aside from the 60 percent increase, the rest of the package remains the same, with officials' salaries doubled by 2003.

        Even the new offer is far below what the union has demanded — the two sides are 50 to 75 percent apart in the salary package.

        The officials, who are part-timers, are seeking close to the annual salary made by officials in the other three major team sports. The NFL counters that it pays more per game than any of the three — its 16 game season is far shorter than the 80 to 162 games in the others.

        Last week, the league locked out its officials, who have been without a contract since March. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the NFL didn't want to start the season without a contract, which would allow officials to walk off the field at any time.

        Last week's final exhibitions were worked with replacements, most from college or the Arena League, and there were no major games-turning gaffes. But the league clearly was concerned that once the games counted, small mistakes would be magnified.

        Talks resumed Tuesday and reconvened Wednesday morning, when the league put its new offer on the table. The meeting lasted just a half-hour, and Condon left for his home in Kansas City to consider it.

        The latest development leaves the NFL with two plans, one of which must be implemented by Thursday. One has a slate of regular officials scheduled for the 15 games on opening week; the other has crews of replacements, augmented by NFL supervisors, ready to get to the games.

        Regardless of who works them, the replacement officials have been guaranteed four games at $2,000 per game.


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