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NFL to begin process for replacement refs

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  June 4, 2012 12:03 PM

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If you had problems with officiating in the Celtics-Heat series, it could be worse during the NFL season.

Negotiations between the league and the referees union over a new collective bargaining agreement has reached an impasse and the CBA expired. Basically, the referees are locked out at this point.

As the two sides continue their standoff, the NFL announced that it will "proceed immediately" with hiring and training replacement officials.

Regional training sessions for replacement officials will begin later this month.

"Our goal is to maintain the highest quality of officiating for our teams, players and fans, including proper enforcement of the playing rules and efficient management of our games," the NFL said in a statement.

The NFL Referees Association ripped the NFL's decision to look at "amateur referees."

"It is unfortunate that as referees' responsibilities are expanded that the NFL would jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game by seeking amateur, under-qualified referees to administer professional games," NFLRA lead negotiator Mike Arnold said in a statement.

The two sides had been in federal mediation. That avenue continues to be open if the two sides want it.

The NFLPA, which had its players locked out last summer, has weighed in on the side of the referees.

"The NFL Players Association is concerned about the NFL’s decision to lock out professional referees and recruit scabs to serve as referees in NFL games for the 2012 season," the NFLPA statement read. "In 2011, the NFL tasked officials with increased responsibilities in protecting player health and safety, and its search for scabs undermines that important function.

"Professional athletes require professional referees, and we believe in the NFL Referees Association’s trained first responders. The NFLPA will continue to monitor the league’s actions in this situation."

This is obviously not a good development for the league as a whole. Even with regular referees, the officiating has been inconsistent. That has led for a push toward full-time officials -- they are part-time right now and all have other full-time jobs -- but, as always, that comes down to how much money it's going to cost.

Don't be surprised if this lasts well into the preseason and then both sides finally strike a deal. It would be a PR nightmare for the NFL if it went very long with replacement officials. That's something the NFL Referees Association is probably banking on.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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