The NFL has suspended its full-time officials program as part of ongoing labor talks with the NFL Referees Association, sources said Thursday.
Unless otherwise decided in the negotiations, this decision means that the NFL will resume its old structure of using a full list of officials whose employment status is part-time.
From a practical point of view, the move will have minimal impact on arbitration this season. Most of the extra responsibilities assigned to full-time officials are focused on working in the off-season. Functionally, all officials work full time once the pre-season has started. But this decision represents a step backward for coaches, players and supporters who have pleaded with the NFL to use all available means to improve its performance.
Neither the NFL nor the NFLRA had a comment Thursday night.
The league's NFLRA collective agreement expires on May 31, 2020 and both sides hope to avoid a repeat of its horrible 2012 lockout. That year, the NFL used replacement officials over the course of three years. first weeks of the regular season.
It's unclear what prompted the league to pull the program off the table during negotiations, but sources close to the situation said it could be reintroduced before an agreement is finalized.
Launched in 2017, the full-time referee program allows approximately 20% of the 122 referees registered to attend additional training and consultations during the off-season. Full-time officials participate in rule making, competition committee discussions, and off-season team visits. In return for a full-time status and additional pay, these officials agree to prioritize the work of the NFL over other professions. The program has a slippery structure of a year that needs to be renewed every summer.
The remaining 80% of civil servants have retained their part-time status, which requires a "dark period" of no contact between the end of the season and mid-May.
All officials and match supervisors are in Dallas this weekend for their annual pre-season clinic.