The National Football League (NFL) and its regular officials have reached a tentative agreement on a new eight-year collective bargaining agreement, ending an NFL-imposed lockout that began in June.

During the lockout, replacement referees oversaw the first 48 regular season games of the 2012 campaign. A questionable touchdown decision made by the replacement officials on the last play of the most recent Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers spurred two, all-day negotiating sessions that led to the agreement. The parties were assisted in the negotiation process by the presence and assistance of two federal mediators and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The new agreement must be ratified by 51 percent of the NFL Referee Association’s (NFLRA) 121 members. Key terms of the new agreement include:

1)      An eight-year agreement covering the 2012-2019 seasons.

2)      Compensation for the game officials is to increase from an average of $149,000 during the 2011 season to $173,000 in 2013, and ultimately $205,000 by 2019.

3)      The current defined benefit pension plan is to  continue for current officials through the 2016 season or until any of the current referees reaches 20 years of NFL service. At that time, the defined benefit plan will be frozen.

4)      All new officials  hired after the effective date of the new agreement and all current officials will receive retirement benefits through a defined contribution arrangement beginning in 2017. The NFL will make an average annual contribution on behalf of each game official that will average more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 for each official by 2019. The NFL also will provide an additional designated amount of matching contribution for each contribution that each official makes to his  personal 401(k) account.

5)      Commencing with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option to hire a number of officials on a full-time basis to work for the league on a year-round basis.

6)      The NFL also reserved the option to retain additional officials for specific training and development purposes. The League can assign these additional officials, at their discretion, to work NFL games. 

While both parties to the negotiation expect the NFLRA to ratify the agreement, veteran NFL referee Ed Hochuli voiced a slight concern even while expressing his excitement to get back on the field. Hochuli stated, “This has to be ratified and we know very little about it. But we’re excited to be back.” That sentiment was echoed by the fans in Baltimore as they greeted the return of the regular officials with a standing ovation prior to the first regular season game of the 2012 season to be officiated by the regular officials.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.