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Talks fail, NFL to use sub referees

By Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Last-ditch contract talks between the NFL and game officials broke down Saturday, meaning the league will open the season with replacement officials on the field.

No further talks with the locked-out officials are scheduled.

“We remain willing to negotiate with the NFL in order to reach a fair agreement,” Mike Arnold, lead negotiator for the NFL Referees Association, said in a written release. League spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed that the talks had not resulted in a deal.

Officials are seeking continuation of their defined-benefit pension plans, something they say would cost teams about $6,000 a team per game.

The NFL last used replacements for a regular-season game in 2001, although that was only for Week 1. That labor crisis was resolved in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in a show of unity.

On the whole, the 2001 replacements had more experience working big-time football games, such as major college games. This time, those officials stood on the sideline for this labor fight, and the league has built its crews with a significant number of high school and small-college officials.

An NFL person with knowledge of the situation said the latest private discussions were initiated by Commissioner Roger Goodell and that the league had identified certain economic improvements the clubs were prepared to make to strike an agreement before Wednesday’s start of the regular season.

The person said the NFL Referees Association understood and accepted those parameters before Saturday’s meeting began but walked away from negotiations and reverted to its pre-lockout position rather than negotiate within those parameters.

A union official who was not authorized to discuss details of the negotiations denied that the NFLRA agreed to such parameters and said talks ended when the league refused to consider alternative solutions to the compensation and pension issues.

The season opens Wednesday when the New York Giants play host to the Dallas Cowboys.

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