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NFL Referees Will Return Tonight After Agreement Ends Lockout

The National Football League’s regular referees will return for tonight’s game at Baltimore after the league and officials reached agreement on an eight-year deal to end a lockout that began in early June.

“It’s time to put the focus back on the teams and players where it belongs,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

Regular officials will take charge of tonight’s visit to the Baltimore Ravens by the Cleveland Browns, Goodell said. The NFL and the union reached an agreement late last night, two days after a game-ending call that President Barack Obama labeled “terrible” and one player described as “embarrassing.”

“This agreement supports long-term reforms that will make officiating better,” Goodell said. “The teams, players and fans want and deserve both consistency and quality in officiating.”

The $9.3 billion-a-year league and its officials met for two days in New York to settle disagreements that focused on compensation and the continuation of a pension plan that was written into the last labor accord.

Officials’ compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013 and to $205,000 by 2019, The NFL said. The pension system will change after the 2016 season.

Officials will meet beginning tomorrow to vote on the collective bargaining agreement. Goodell can approve the deal without a vote of NFL owners.

Ratification Vote

“Our board of directors has unanimously approved taking this proposed CBA to the membership for a ratification vote,” Scott Green, president of the NFL Referees Association, said in a joint statement released by the league and the union. “We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week’s games.”

The 136 replacement officials were recruited from the second tier of college football and lower levels and handled the entire preseason schedule amid criticism from coaches and players over missed calls and inaccurate spotting on downs.

The complaints intensified during the first three weeks of the season and talks with the union resumed after the Seattle Seahawks beat the Green Bay Packers Sept. 24 on a controversial last-second touchdown catch, the last decision made by the replacement referees.

Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang said on his Twitter account that the call, which awarded Seahawks receiver Golden Tate a game-winning touchdown with no time on the clock, was “embarrassing.”

Simultaneous Catch

Even though Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings appeared to intercept the ball before Tate reached in, the referees ruled it a simultaneous catch, which goes to the offense under league rules. The call was upheld on video review.

From Hall of Fame players to the Wisconsin governor’s office and all the way to the White House, the NFL was inundated with pleas to settle with the officials’ union and protect the image and integrity of the most popular sport in the U.S. Las Vegas bookmakers said the disputed call in the Seattle-Green Bay game caused a $300 million swing in payoffs worldwide.

This week, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined $50,000 and Washington Redskins assistant Kyle Shanahan $25,000 for interactions they had with the replacement officials. Denver Broncos coaches John Fox and Jack Del Rio were fined a total of $55,000 for berating the referees in Week 2.

The NFL also used replacement officials for the first week of the 2001 season before reaching a contract agreement.

NFL referees work about 36 hours per week, including meetings the day before a game, crew breakdowns on the day after a game and a test every Thursday, according to Sports Illustrated.

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