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NFL, Refs Meet But There's No End To Labor Dispute


Good news this morning from the NFL. There were no bad calls by replacement officials last night. OK, there were no games last night. The much-maligned replacement refs don't take the field again until tomorrow night in Baltimore. They'll be officiating the Ravens/Cleveland Browns' game and you can probably expect a lot more scrutiny. The real refs and NFL owners did meet yesterday, but a settlement remains elusive.

NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman has been following developments. Tom, good morning.


GREENE: So the criticism goes on after Monday night's Seattle victory over Green Bay. And there's even talk that, oh, my God, this could affect the playoffs. And that seems like an overreaction. I mean, we're only three games into the season here.

GOLDMAN: Overreaction, you say? Hardly. Yes, it's very early. The craziness of Monday night could be long forgotten in a month or so. That said, there have been reports about how this could hurt Green Bay in particular. Now, if the Packers end up jockeying for a wildcard playoff spot with Seattle, for instance, and they end up in a tie-breaker situation with Seattle getting the nod because it won their head-to-head game - even though the Seahawks shouldn't have - Green Bay misses the playoffs and the players miss out on postseason bonuses.


GOLDMAN: But the Packers, I assure you, are much more focused on how to protect their all-star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. He was decimated Monday night by Seattle's pass rush. And how to get their offense high flying again. If they do that and they start winning, the Monday night fiasco will become a distant memory.

GREENE: Long forgotten. Let's get the latest on the NFL lockout of the regular refs, which started back in June. I mean, there is good news; the two sides are actually talking. Is that because of some of this criticism?

GOLDMAN: You know, it doesn't seem to be. Discussions yesterday between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the officials' representatives were planned before the firestorm erupted Monday night. Reportedly, there've been negotiations for the past week. There are no details of what happened or if the tone of talks was influenced at all by the uproar. One league source was quoted as saying, after Monday night, "We get that it's painful. Even though it's short-term pain, no one likes going through it."

Now, most people buy the union argument that the NFL is a $9 billion business and they can afford what the 120 officials want. But the NFL argues these officials aren't paupers. The average salary is $150,000 for part-time workers. The league wants to change their pension plans to 401(k) style plans. That's the main sticking point still.

GREENE: You know, Tom, I follow a lot of actual NFL players on Twitter. A lot of players love to tweet. And a lot of them have been tweeting that the want the regular refs back on the field with them. Can the players do anything to help make push this along?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, Green Bay offensive lineman, T.J. Lang, who was tweeting like a madman after Monday night, he said that on the plane ride back to Wisconsin, the players debated whether to go on strike, or to take a knee on every play as a protest of replacement officials. Now, the players' current labor contract says they cannot go on strike. But Lang said in a radio interview, Its just not fun to part of something like this - if it keeps going, it's going to get ugly.

GREENE: And briefly, Tom, I mean, could the NFL suffer in terms of money, by having its image tarnished here?

GOLDMAN: Consider this: 70,000 voicemails reportedly were left at league offices after the Monday night game. But how about these facts and figures? TV ratings are up this season, attendance is about even with last season of average of 65,000 fans per game. Here's betting tomorrow's game on the NFL Network gets a big audience too, as people tune in because of all this controversy.

And another bet. Once the lockout ends, it won't take fans long at all to forget what today seems cataclysmic.

GREENE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.