On Sunday, when the NFL returns (!) in the form of the Hall of Fame Game, the NFL will use replacement officials, NFL VP of Football Operations Ray Anderson confirmed on Wednesday.
Anderson, speaking on the NFL Network, confirmed specifically an idea that Roger Goodell danced around while speaking with the media at the Packers training camp on Wednesday.
"Yes we are," Anderson said when asked about using replacement refs. "Our replacement crews are deployed to training camps now and our crew will be prepared for the Hall of Fame Game Sunday and we will kick off and start our NFL season."
Who, exactly, will make up these groups of replacement refs? Glad you asked, because Anderson has the answer. It turns out that college officials could leave for the NFL, but Anderson said they're receiving "some pressure" from the locked-out refs who serve as advisors to the various NCAA conferences.
"First of all, division conferences haven't per se declared their officials off limits. Rather we have a number of our current officials who are supervisors for those conferences so they have been able to put some pressure on college officials not to make themselves available to the NFL," Anderson said. "So we don't want to put that on college conferences, per se. But the officials we are putting on the field have substantial experience, all of whom have some college experience. And we're very comfortable that they will be very credible and do a very, very fine job for us."
Clearly the preferable solution for the NFL, its clubs and fans of those clubs is for this lockout to end. But it doesn't appear as if that's on the horizon, even if Anderson did say that the two sides are "in talks," "had recent talks" and "anticipate more coming up." That's because -- as in almost every negotiation -- the issue is money.
"It always comes down to money. So there's dollars and a pension plan structure that they want to continue and we want to substitute for," Anderson said. "Those are the two main issues, frankly: dollars and pension. And we're at disagreement and we'll get back to the table shortly."
Per Anderson, the NFL has offered 5-to-11-percent raises to the current officials, which doesn't jive with previous labor negotiations.
Whatever, the reality of the situation is quite clear: football will take place regardless of who's in stripes. Ergo, henceforth, etc., fans will get what they want if refs are locked out. That wasn't the case last year -- you'll recall there was no Hall of Fame Game in 2011 -- and it's going to take a seriously disastrous performance by the replacement refs for the locked-out officials to get public sentiment on their side. Which means for now, the NFL holds all the leverage.