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ESPN: Replacement officials may work into regular season

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After the first week of the NFL preseason, almost universally across the league fans have agreed on one thing, the NFL needs to agree to a deal to get their regular officials back on the field as soon as possible.

Well, league executives said Monday they don't foresee that happening and are prepared to open the 2012 regular season with the replacement officials, according to a report by ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter.

The league has already issued assignments to the replacement officials for the second and third week of the preseason. Apparently, the league thinks the replacement officials are getting better and will continue to do so as they gain more experience working games.

The NFL is completing its first full preseason weekend with Monday night's Cowboys-Raiders game. It has assigned crews to this upcoming weekend's second week of preseason games. Plus, the assignments for the third week were sent out Monday, further proving that the league is planning to have this last into and through the preseason.

The league also believes that now that the replacement officials, who have been training with the league for the past three months, will be better suited to handle the pressure of the NFL with experience this past weekend. As one league executive in the officiating department said, just as teams are forced to start rookies in the preseason, the league is being forced to do the same, and just as teams' rookies often perform better as the preseason goes on, so will the officials.

According to the report, the hang up between the NFL and NFL Referees Association has to do with more than just the economics of the deal:

  • The league wants to make a group of officials that are currently working part time for the NFL work full time.
    • More than 90 percent of the officials already have full-time jobs that they do not want to give up.
  • The league wants to add three additional crews, with the option of rotating them into established crews if the league deems there is substandard performance. They could also groom them to eventually replace some of the aging top officials.
    • The established officials are opposed to this for obvious reasons.

It shouldn't be surprising at all that league executives went to the media to say they're prepared to open the regular season with the replacement officials. Or that despite the criticism seemingly coming from all angles, the league is still talking up its replacement officials, claiming they're only going to get better. The league is in the middle of a negotiation. This is more than likely part of that. The league wants everyone to believe they're just fine with the replacement officials. Similarly, the NFLRA wants everyone to see everything the replacement officials are doing wrong.

Still, ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton said on Mike & Mike in the Morning Tuesday that he believes this holdout could actually go into the regular season as it appears the league is sticking to its current deal and neither side is willing to budge. It will be interesting and vital to the integrity of the league to see what happens on this front as the regular season draws closer and stakes continue to rise.

How do you feel about the replacement officials and the current deal on the table? Do you believe a deal will get done prior to the regular season?