- Associated Press - Monday, June 4, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - The NFL will start hiring and training possible replacement officials with a deal not yet completed with the NFL Referees Association.

Talks between the league and the officials broke down after two mediation sessions that followed nine bargaining negotiations since October. Both sides have said they expect a new collective bargaining agreement in time for the upcoming season.

But that optimism has disappeared.

A session was held Sunday under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and the NFLRA said the league “terminated negotiations” on Monday.

The NFL said new demands made by the officials led to the end of talks.

“In yesterday’s session, the NFLRA … abandoned positions that it had previously taken with both us and the mediators, and made economic demands totaling millions of additional dollars that they had agreed to drop at earlier sessions,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

The league said that regional training sessions for replacement officials would begin this month “to ensure that there is no disruption to NFL games this season.”

“Our goal is to maintain the highest quality of officiating for our teams, players, and fans, including proper enforcement of the playing rules and efficient management of our games,” the league said in a statement.

The NFL’s search would target retired college officials and perhaps current ones who would be qualified to work professional games.

Referees counsel Mike Arnold called those replacements “amateur referees.”

“It is unfortunate that as referees’ responsibilities are expanded that the NFL would jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game by seeking amateur, under-qualified referees to administer professional games,” Arnold said.

But Aiello argued that there is nothing amateur about the potential replacements.

“The officials we are hiring are professionals who officiate games at a high level and have backgrounds similar to current NFL officials,” Aiello said. “We have every confidence that the officials who we bring on will do a fully credible job, and will manage our games efficiently and effectively enforce the playing rules.”

Most NFL officials hold other jobs in the offseason.

Detroit Lions quarterback Shaun Hill prefers to see the usual game officials on the field.

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