The not-so-long, not-so-much of a national nightmare is over.
Regular NFL officials will be on the field starting with tonight's game now that the league and its referees union have reached tentative agreement on a new, eight-year contract.
The news that football fans have been anxiously waiting to hear came around midnight last night. It followed "two days of marathon negotiations," as The Associated Press puts it, sparked by Monday night's debacle in Seattle — when a crew of replacement refs awarded the Seahawks a touchdown that the team didn't deserve and cost the Green Bay Packers a victory.
The officials had been locked out since June in a contract dispute with the league that centered on the NFL's desire to eliminate the officials' pension plan and shift them to a 401(k). There was also a dispute over whether the officials would become full-time employees. The lockout meant that replacement refs worked the season's first three weeks' worth of games.
According to the AP, under the tentative agreement:
— Officials' salaries "increase from an average of $149,000 a year in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, rising to $205,000 by 2019."
— The "defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season or until the official earns 20 years' service. The defined benefit plan will then be frozen."
— "Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires, and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement."
— "Beginning with the 2013 season, the NFL will have the option to hire a number of officials on a full-time basis to work year round, including on the field. The NFL also will be able to retain additional officials for training and development, and can assign those officials to work games. The number of additional officials will be determined by the league."
Though the proposal has yet to be ratified by the officials, NFL.com says that league Commissioner Roger Goodell "temporarily lifted the lockout so officials can work Thursday night's game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens (8 p.m. ET on NFL Network). Officials will vote on the agreement Friday and Saturday in Dallas, and a clinic for them will be held after the vote."
On Morning Edition: NPR's Mike Pesca talks about the lockout, the replacement refs and the contract agreement. As Mike says, NFL owners had to have been "starting to feel bad" about the effects of the lockout as fans across the nation howled about the replacement refs' botched calls and how some players seemed to be out of control (raising the already high risk of injury).