The NFL has suspended plans to make game officials full-time employees as contract negotiations with the NFL Referees Association continue, according to ESPN, which cited multiple unidentified sources.
Instead of making the switch to hiring full-time officials, the league will go back to using its previous structure of having a full roster of officials who will work part time. The decision comes amid ongoing labor talks between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association as the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire at the end of May.
While it’s not clear why the league made the decision to suspend the plan, ESPN notes it still could be reintroduced for next season.
The NFL had employed roughly 20 percent of its officials on a full-time basis starting in 2017 for additional training during the offseason, including “rule development, competition committee discussions and offseason visits to teams,” according to ESPN. The other 80 percent has been required to stay away from the league from the end of the season until May.
The league has received pressure to improve its officiating, especially coming off a season in which the Rams’ NFC title game against the Saints ended in controversy after a non-call helped Los Angeles advance to the Super Bowl.
As ESPN notes, both sides are hoping to avoid what happened with officials in 2012 when the NFL used replacement officials for several weeks after failing to reach an agreement in time to start the season, resulting in an ugly lockout.