NFL referee lockout finally ends

The NFL’s regular officiating crew will be back on the field for the fourth week of the season, just days after replacement referees erred in a game-changing decision.

The league office and the referees’ union came to a decision on Wednesday night, ending a lockout that should have occurred in the first place.

It is a shame that it took an incorrect decision of that magnitude to prompt a settlement but fans can watch tonight’s game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns knowing that fully-fledged NFL referees will officiate the game.

The NFL has been preaching the motto ‘protect the shield’ to its players and coaching staff for a number of years, but in this situation it failed to do as it says, damaging the integrity of the game. Thankfully it has acted before its reputation was irreparably tarnished.

The deal, as many lockouts do, centred on the officials’ compensation package. The officials will have salary increases through to 2019 and increased funding to a pension plan.

There will also be an increase in the number of referees the NFL employs. Three extra squads of seven officials will be added to the payroll, in order to prevent a generation gap when existing referees retire – 14 officials have more than 20 years experience, suggesting this could be imminent.

The reaction of players, coaches and fans has been unanimously positive.

“Welcome back REFS,” tweeted Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller, who is likely out this week with a shoulder injury.

"We are glad to be getting back on the field for this week's games," referees union president Scott Green said.

The inability of the previous referees had prompted outrage within the game, especially after they chose to award an interception as a touchdown. Usually impartial analyst Jon Gruden chose to define the performance as ‘tragic and comical.’

image: © Matt McGee