Officials gather at the replay booth during the first half of NFL preseason football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in Philadelphia. The Eagles won 24-23. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
NEW YORK -- Less than three weeks before the season kicks off, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association are no closer to an agreement to end the lockout of the officials.
As replacement officials work preseason games -- and generally get criticized for their performances -- the league and officials Thursday disputed such issues as full-time employees and adding officiating crews.
On Sept. 5, the Cowboys visit the Giants to open the season. Not since 2001 has the NFL played games that count in the standings with replacement officials, and that was for one week. This lockout began June 3.
The NFL is offering to add three full officiating crews, increasing the total number of officials to 140. League spokesman Greg Aiello said "this would reduce stress on the officials by allowing each official to work fewer games, would reduce travel, would allow us to do more intensive training, integrate younger officials more effectively, increase diversity, and improve quality of officiating."
"The union flatly opposes this proposal ..." Aiello added.
But the NFLRA insists the compensation being offered with such an increase would reduce their pay.
"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 10 months of negotiations," the NFLRA said in a statement. "It is clear that this proposal is a negotiating tactic to attempt to divert attention from the real issues."
Another key issue, one Aiello noted will improve the quality of officiating long term, is hiring full-time officials. The league is proposing having seven officials -- one per position of referee, umpire, line judge, side judge, back judge, field judge, head linesman -- who would train, scout, handle communications, safety issues and rules interpretations year-round. Now, all NFL game officials are part-time employees, with outside jobs ranging from lawyer to teacher to business owner.
"The NFLRA is not opposed to full time officials if they are fairly compensated," the union said Thursday. "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 union also disputes the value of the league's current salary offer, which it says would not be a 5 percent to 11 percent increase.
Instead, the officials said the proposal "includes aggregate game fee compensation increases of 2.82 percent per year, not the rates publicly claimed by the league. In fact, the NFL's proposal does not contain any salary schedule. Rather it contains aggregate game fees for all officials to be paid per a schedule to be developed by the NFLRA."
Aiello countered that officials would receive continuing increases in every category of pay, from game fees to travel and meeting fees, and, depending on how the NFLRA decided to allocate the salary pool, individual officials could expect annual increases of between 5 and 11 percent.
Finally, there is a stalemate over the officials' pension plan, which the union said the league plans to freeze and ultimately terminate. The NFLRA offered to "grandfather" the current defined benefit plan only for current officials.
The league is offering a 401(k) plan in which it said its last proposal would provide annual contributions averaging about $20,000.