The National Football League will use replacements for its locked-out field officials to open the regular season in the U.S.’s most popular sports league next week.
Talks with the officials remain deadlocked, and replacements will take the field Sept. 5 when the Super Bowl-champion New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys open the season in East Rutherford, New Jersey, according to a memo sent to all 32 teams by Ray Anderson, executive vice president for football operations.
“The replacements have undergone extensive training and evaluation, and have shown steady improvement during the preseason,” Anderson wrote. “We will continue the training with each crew and they will work as much of the regular season as necessary.”
The league and its officials “remain apart” on pay, pension and operational issues, Anderson wrote.
The NFL Referees Association was locked out in June. Michael Arnold, the association’s chief negotiator, said the group wasn’t surprised by the league’s memo.
“This is consistent with the NFL’s negotiating strategy, which has been ‘take it or leave it’ and lock them out,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “It is unfortunate because the referees want to get back on the field. Our members have been engaged in extensive preparations and are ready to go.”
The replacement officials have been recruited from the second level of college football on down. They have handled the entire preseason schedule amid criticism from coaches and players over missed calls, inaccurate spotting on downs and general lack of skill and experience.
Anderson acknowledged the criticism.
“The replacement officials are dedicated and enthusiastic, have worked very hard to improve, and have persevered despite the attacks on their qualifications and performance,” he said.
The NFL used replacements for the first week of the 2001 season, before reaching a contract agreement with officials. Bruce Smith and Gene Upshaw, both now members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said at the time that using replacement referees risked injury to players.