On a Wednesday conference call, the NFL Referees Association told the national media that the league has refused negotiations in the weeks since locking out officials on June 3. The NFL says otherwise, refuting that claim in a statement released Wednesday afternoon, following the NFLRA media session.
The NFL statement made to Pro Football Weekly said:
"That is absolutely false. We have negotiated in good faith for past 9 months."
The league also pushed back on the NFLRA contention that replacement refs will hurt the quality of the product on the field, telling Daniel Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal:
"We only began the process of hiring replacements when the NFLRA told us of its intention to have its members authorize the union leadership to call a strike. In order to ensure that there is no disruption to NFL games this season we began last month hiring and training replacement officials. These high-quality officials will be prepared to work preseason games, beginning with the Pro Football Hall of Fame game on August 5. We have made substantial investments in training despite the efforts of the NFLRA to denigrate the replacements and disrupt the training process. Our goal is to maintain the highest quality of officiating for our teams, players, and fans, including proper enforcement of the playing rules and efficient management of our games. We are confident that these game officials will enforce rules relating to player safety. Contrary to NFLRA leadership, we do not believe that players will 'play dirty' or intentionally break the rules."
The NFLRA maintains that it has never called for a strike. The referee union has stood by its claim that the quality of officiating would suffer with replacement officials, pointing out the intense training officials go through to prepare each season and noting the league's own rules for putting more than one rookie official on a crew.
The back and forth should sound familiar, echoing similar rhetoric used in last year's lockout fight between the players union and NFL.
With slight less than 3 weeks until the Aug. 5 Hall of Fame Game, the impact of replacement refs will be felt soon enough.
For news and updates pertaining to the referee lockout, stay tuned to this StoryStream from SB Nation NFL.