National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said
Thursday that Monday night's blown call at the Seattle Seahawks/Green Bay Packers game helped push the league and referees to reach an agreement on a new contract.
Still, Goodell said, "we were in intensive talks anyway, so it's likely we would have a deal by this weekend regardless of Monday night's game."
Speaking at a press conference from NFL offices in New York City, Goodell said he was thrilled to have the eight-year deal with the NFLRA and it will allow locked-out officials to return to action for Thursday night's game between the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens.
Goodell also apologized for having interm referees on the field admitting "it was painful for the fans to watch." He was not asked if the controversial call that ended Monday night's game was a good one or not.
The agreement hinged on working out pension and retirement benefits for the officials, who are part-time employees of the league. The tentative pact calls for their salaries to increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
Under the proposed deal, the current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season or until the official earns 20 years' 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. The annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019.
Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option to hire a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year round, including on the field. The NFL also will be able to retain additional officials for training and development, and can assign those officials to work games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the league.
Scott Green, president of the NFLRA said in a statement released Wednesday night that: "We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games."
While the agreed way to grandfather in the pension may leave some of the referees unsatisfied, the current system will be kept in place for five years before a switchover to a 401(k), the terms were widely viewed as favorable for the union.
"The owners appear to have grossly overestimated their bargaining power and underestimated the bargaining power of the referees," said Richard Sheehan, a University of Notre Dame finance professor who specializes in the economics of sports.
"The owners' arrogance and hubris led them to make a large wager that the referees' job was so easy that they could hire replacements and no one would notice. Unfortunately, fans noticed. If there was any doubt that the owners made an incredibly misinformed bet, the doubt was removed Monday night."
The replacements came 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 criticizing officials following a loss last week.
The replacements, drawn from the ranks of lower division college, high school and semi-professional football, have been standing in for the regular, unionized, referees who have been locked out since June.