How The Referee Deal Got DoneS

Judy Battista of The New York Times has the most complete rundown of the negotiations that got the referees back on the field last night, and it becomes clear that the Packers-Seahawks debacle didn't get the deal done, but it did get it done faster.

Until Monday night, conventional wisdom was that the league and the union weren't even talking. A report that the sides had met twice last week was met with surprise, and no further talks were scheduled. As of last Thursday, the NFL had supposedly rejected the NFLRA's proposal to phase out pensions for future hires, so meaningful progress seemed unlikely.

We were all wrong. According to the Times, even before Monday's mess in Seattle the sides had been engaged in "10 days of intensive negotiations," and that the conception of a pension freeze had already been largely agreed upon. This was the biggest sticking point, and with that out of the way, it was only a question of when the numbers and details would be hammered out.

Battista's sources are split on whether a deal would have been in place by this weekend or not, without Golden Tate's interceptouchdown. She reports that Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and Jets owner Woody Johnson woke up Tuesday more prepared than ever to play hardball, and urged Roger Goodell (who was heavily involved in the talks, not a passive observer) not to make any concessions. Conversely, a faction of owners led by the Giants' John Mara and the Patriots' Robert Kraft believed that the public uproar was actually, you know, bad for the league.

The conciliatory faction won out, and when an agreement in principle was reached on Wednesday night, most observers concluded that the league compromised more than the union did.

Before the talks resumed Tuesday, the league wanted to convert the officials to a 401(k) plan after two years. By the time an agreement was reached Wednesday night, it had agreed to keep the pension plan for five years. That was a big victory for the officials, although the league ultimately accomplished its goal of getting rid of the pension, at the cost of some short-term spending.

The officials moved on the length of the contract. Blank had conversations with Goodell several weeks ago in which he urged Goodell to aim for a longer contract than the five years the officials wanted. In the end, the contract will run for eight years, a critical reason the league was willing to allow the traditional pension plan to remain for five years before switching to a 401(k) plan.

And with the league focused on changing the way officiating is run, it won a concession from officials to allow the hiring of a number of full-time officials, starting in 2013, an idea that had been resisted. The league also won the option to hire officials to develop a bench that can be used to replace those officials the N.F.L. thinks are underperforming. But they will have to be paid out of a separate pool of money, not the money designated for existing officials - a victory for the union.

Battista's account points to the under-appreciated subtext of the referee lockout, as well as last year's player lockout and really any work stoppage in professional sports: They're much more about owner vs. owner than management vs. labor. So if you've still got residual anger at the league for ruining three weeks of football, direct it at those owners who, even after the Seattle shitshow, still thought this was a battle worth fighting.

Behind the Scenes of a Deal That Everyone Wanted Done [New York Times]