x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

NFL: Deal reached with officials to end dispute

The deal with the NFL Referees Association is expected to allow locked-out officials to return to action for this week's games

The National Football League (NFL) has reached an agreement to end a labour dispute with its regular game officials, the league said on its website (nfl.com) on Wednesday.

The deal with the NFL Referees Association is expected to allow locked-out officials to return to action for this week's games after replacements had struggled to act as cover for them over the first three weeks of the 2012 season.

The replacements have come under increasing scrutiny for a number of questionable calls, most recently a contentious decision that affected the outcome of Monday's game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

The tipping point came when the Seahawks were awarded a last-second, game-winning touchdown against the Packers despite replays showing that a Green Bay defenseman had made an interception.

The public outcry was severe, compounding the league's displeasure with the sub-standard officiating that had already upset fans, coaches and players alike.

New England coach Bill Belichick was fined for making contact with a referee on Sunday, while Denver coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio were also fined for publicly criticising officials following a loss last week.

However, the NFL appears set to begin rebuilding its public image with Thursday's encounter between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, when regular officials are expected to make a welcome return.

The replacements, drawn from the ranks of lower division college, high school and semi-professional football, have been standing in for the regular, unionised, referees who have been locked out since June.

The regular referees were locked after failing to reach accord with the NFL on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, largely due to a disagreement over pension payments.