With the NFL and its referees locked in negotiations and with those game officials locked out while replacements work the preseason games, Ray Anderson, the NFL's vice president of operations, laid out a harsh reality to those on the other side of the negotiating table: the league, he told CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman, is prepared to start the season with replacement officials.
In response to Anderson's recent comments, the NFL Referee's Association put out a release Thursday morning that was just as hard-hitting as Anderson's comments.
"Over the last two weeks the NFL and Ray Anderson, its executive vice president, have made or published statements regarding negotiations between the NFL and NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) which are false and/or misleading," the release states.
In the release, the NFLRA refutes the NFL's claim that the league wants to hire three additional crews so the current officials will have more time to rest.
Writes the NFLRA: "The NFL's proposal to add twenty-one (21) additional officials without increasing the aggregate compensation allocated among all officials constitutes a major REDUCTION in the NFL's proposal to the NFLRA. This reduction was threatened by the NFL when they locked out the NFLRA officials on June 3, 2012. The increase in the number of officials was first proposed by the NFL to the NFLRA by letter dated July 19, 2012 and had never been mentioned in the preceding ten (10) months of negotiations. It is clear that this proposal is a negotiating tactic to attempt to divert attention from the real issues."
As for the problem of the NFL apparently wanting the officials to become full-time employees …
"The issues of 'full time' officials and additional officials have never been serious issues in the negotiations," the NFLRA wrote. "The NFLRA is not opposed to full time officials if they are fairly compensated. While the NFL has never made any compensation proposal, comparable positions in other professional sports at the 20 year level earn approximately $350,000 to $400,000 and are provided health insurance, a pension, time-off with pay and numerous other benefits."
The NFLRA also pushes back against the NFL's apparent notion that the proposed change to the pension system -- the league would make it more like a 401(k) where the stock market comes into play rather than a guaranteed amount of money -- is a fair one.
"The NFL's proposal on the referees' pension plan has been unchanged during the entire 10 months of negotiations -- to immediately freeze and ultimately terminate the plan," the statement reads. "The NFLRA made a major concession by offering to 'grandfather' the defined benefit plan only for current officials. This concession typically 'settles' the pension issue in almost all negotiations, but the NFL has refused to discuss it even though 18 teams continue to maintain defined benefit plans for their employees."
Then, to finish its statement, the NFLRA crunched some numbers:
The real question is why has the NFL maintained its 'take it or leave it' stand and refused to change its position on the core economic issues during past ten (10) months of negotiations? It certainly is not because they can't afford it. NFL revenues increased from $6.5 billion to $9.3 billion during the last contract period and are expected to increase in the near term to $12 to $14 billion.
The difference in aggregate compensation requested by the NFLRA and offered by the NFL are insignificant compared to NFL revenues. In the 2012 season the difference is about $2.2 million and over the five (5) year term proposed by the NFLRA about $16.5 million in total. That breaks down to $500,000 per team over five (5) years or $100,000 per team per year. This means the compensation issue could be resolved for $6,000 per game for each team! Why would the NFL jeopardize the health and safety of it players and the integrity of the game for such a modest amount?