New York The NFL's locked-out officials made a last-minute offer to work this season with a no-strike guarantee if their salary dispute was submitted to binding arbitration after the Super Bowl.
The NFL rejected the offer, submitted Thursday, just before it said that replacement officials would work this weekend's opening games.
"We proposed a no-strike, no-lockout agreement before the lockout and they rejected it," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "We're now in a lockout. The ship has sailed."
Under the plan submitted by the NFL Referees Association, the regular officials would have worked this season under their old contract. If no agreement was reached before the end of the season, the dispute would go to a federal mediator.
"It's unbelievable," Tom Condon, the officials' negotiator, said in a statement released Friday by International Management Group, the agency for which he works. "But I guess I wouldn't want an impartial third party if I were the NFL, either."
Aiello said, however, that he knows of no case in sports where arbitration was used before a contract was agreed upon. "Arbitration is for settling disputes after there is a collective bargaining agreement," he said.
The union also released a list of what it said were the names of replacement officials with their backgrounds.
The NFL had no comment on the list and there was no way to verify the backgrounds stated by the union. Some of the union descriptions indicated it, too, was unclear of the backgrounds.
The two sides remain far apart in a battle that's almost entirely over pay.
The officials, almost all of whom have other jobs, have been seeking some sort of parity with officials from the NBA, NHL and major league baseball, all of whom are categorized as full time. The NFL counters that on a per-game basis, its officials are the best paid in any sport.
For example, the NFL's offer for a fifth-year official would increase his pay this season by 60 percent from $42,295 to $67,671, not including playoff pay. The union is asking for $95,000 for a fifth-year official.
For a 10-year official, the NFL's offer is $104,000. The union is asking $125,000.
Under the NFL's proposal, a 20-year-man at top scale would receive $120,998. The union is asking for $210,000.
The replacement officials are being paid $2,000 per game and are guaranteed four weeks, which would take them through the third week of the season.
There are no talks scheduled right now, but Condon and Jeff Pash, the chief negotiator for the league, are expected to stay in touch by phone during the weekend.
To get the regulars back next week, there would probably have to be an agreement by Thursday, which was the league's deadline this week in order to give whichever officials work the game time to make travel plans.