The National Football League will use replacements for its locked-out field officials to open the regular season in the U.S.’s most-popular sports league next week.
Talks with the officials remain deadlocked and replacements will take the field Sept. 5 when the Super Bowl-champion New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys open the season in East Rutherford, N.J., according to a memo sent to all 32 teams by Ray Anderson, executive vice president for football operations,.
“The replacements have undergone extensive training and evaluation, and have shown steady improvement during the preseason,” Anderson wrote. “We will continue the training with each crew and they will work as much of the regular season as necessary.”
The league and its officials “remain apart” on pay, pension and operational issues, Anderson wrote.
The NFL Referees Association was locked out in June. Michael Arnold, the association’s chief negotiator, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment on the league memo.
The replacement officials have been recruited from the second level of college football on down. They have handled the entire preseason schedule amid criticism from coaches and players over missed calls, inaccurate spotting on downs and general lack of skill and experience.
Anderson acknowledged the criticism.
“The replacement officials are dedicated and enthusiastic, have worked very hard to improve, and have persevered despite the attacks on their qualifications and performance,” he said.
The NFL used replacements for the first week of the 2001 season, before reaching a contract agreement with officials. Bruce Smith and Gene Upshaw, both now members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said at the time that using replacement referees risked injury to players.
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