The Washington Times - September 27, 2012, 08:03AM

The backlash from a three-week regular-season run of incompetent officiating by replacement referees helped perpetuate a deal late Wednesday that ended the NFL’s lockout of its referees’ association.

The two sides agreed to terms on an eight-year collective bargaining agreement. Regular referees will return to work immediately. They will officiate Thursday night’s game between Baltimore and Cleveland, in addition to all Week 4 games. The Redskins play at Tampa Bay.

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“Our officials will be back on the field starting tomorrow night,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a joint statement released by the NFL and the NFLRA. “We appreciate the commitment of the NFLRA in working through the issues to reach this important agreement.”

“Our Board of Directors has unanimously approved taking this proposed CBA to the membership for a ratification vote,” Scott Green, president of the NFLRA, said in a statement. “We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week’s games.”

Goodell has the authority as commissioner to enter into this agreement without a vote of the NFL clubs. He temporarily lifted the lockout so regular officials can work the Cleveland-Baltimore game prior to referees’ ratification vote. The officials will meet Friday and Saturday to vote on the agreement. If it is approved, a clinic for the officials will be held following the vote.

According to the league’s announcement, the agreement includes the following key terms:

  • Eight-year term covering the 2012-2019 seasons.
  • The current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season (or until the official earns 20 years of service). The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.
  • Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement, which will have two elements:  an annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official that will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019, and a partial match on any additional contribution that an official makes to his 401(k) account.
  • Apart from their benefit package, the game officials’ compensation will increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
  • Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option of hiring a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year-round, including on the field. 
  • The NFL will have the option to retain additional officials for training and development purposes, and may assign those additional officials to work NFL games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the NFL.

Chaos reigned throughout the league in recent weeks as replacement referees repeatedly botched decisions, missed calls, failed to properly enforce the rules of the game and lost control of games for various reasons. Replacement referee crews consisted mostly of low-level college and high school refs.

The Redskins were affected in their Week 2 loss to St. Louis when post-play fighting and bickering got out of hand, creating an unruly game atmosphere. Several Redskins, including quarterback Robert Griffin III, accused the Rams of playing dirty.

In Washington’s Week 3 loss to Cincinnati, the referees incorrectly blew cornerback Josh Wilson’s fumble recovery dead instead of allowing him to return it. Wilson was not touched on the ground by a Cincinnati player after he recovered running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ fumble in a tie game in the third quarter, so he should have been allowed to return it, which he would have for a touchdown.

Then, with 7 seconds remaining, the referees incorrectly told Redskins coaches the game was over because a false start penalty against Fred Davis would result in a 10-second runoff. That was an incorrect ruling because the clock had stopped when the Redskins spiked the ball on the previous play. The entire Bengals team had to be cleared from the field before play resumed. Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for his reaction to the referees’ initial call to end the game, and he was fined $25,000 for his actions.

The chaos - and embarrassment for the NFL - culminated Monday night on the final play of the Packers-Seahawks game. The league acknowledged that Seahawks receiver Golden Tate committed offensive pass interference on the final Hail Mary pass, which should have ended the game and resulted in a 12-7 Green Bay victory.

Instead, Seattle won 14-12 after referees ruled Tate came down with a catch on the Hail Mary. A non-replacement replay official did not overturn the call, even though replays clearly showed Green Bay defensive back M.D. Jennings with two hands on the ball and possession before Tate got both of his hands on it. Simultaneous possession is awarded to the offensive team, by rule, but simultaneous possession is not enforced if one player possesses the ball first and then another fights to get his hands in.