Football fans breathed a collective sigh of relief this week after the National Football League (NFL) reached an agreement to end a labor dispute with its regular game officials.
After two days of marathon negotiations - and mounting frustration throughout the league - the NFL and the officials' union announced at midnight Thursday that a tentative eight-year agreement had been reached to end a lockout that began in June.
Of all the issues under negotiation, “the most important thing was that we got full time employees," explained Robert Kraft, CEO of The Kraft Group and New England Patriots owner on The Kudlow Report. “We now have the opportunity to hire refs full time with people focused on the NFL 100%."
Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option to hire referees on a full-time basis who would work on the field during the regular season then teach and train during the off season. Currently officials are all part-time employees and they sometimes work other jobs.
"We want to be sure our sports entertainment product is the best in the world and that requires us to have high quality full time referees," added Kraft.
In addition, the pact calls for ref salaries to increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019.
Also, 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.
The deal was greeted with great enthusiasm by football fans all around the nation.
Replacement refs had 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 Kudlow Report" airs weeknights at 7 p.m. ET.