BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
NEW YORK - The NFL will open the regular season with replacement officials.
Replacements will be on the field beginning next Wednesday night when the Cowboys visit the Giants to open the season, league executive Ray Anderson told the 32 teams. Negotiations are at a standstill between the NFL and the officials' union,
The NFL Referees Association was locked out in early June and talks on a new collective bargaining agreement went nowhere. Replacements have been used throughout the preseason, with mixed results.
In 2001, the NFL used replacements for the first week of the regular season before a contract was finalized.
Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, told the clubs in a memo Wednesday that the replacements will work "as much of the regular season as necessary," adding that training with each crew will continue.
A request for comment from the NFLRA was not immediately answered. The NFL Players Association, which of course went through a 4 ½- month lockout last year before settling on a new contract, expressed disappointment about the decision to use replacements.
Colts safety Antoine Bethea said there is a feeling of solidarity with the officials.
"They've got to do what they've got to do, and we were in a similar situation a little while ago," Bethea said. "So you can't fault those guys for doing what they have to do."
Anderson said the sides remain considerably apart on economic issues, including salary and retirement benefits. He also told the teams there is a substantial difference on operational issues.
"One of our key goals in this negotiation is to enhance our ability to recruit, train, and replace officials who are not performing adequately," Anderson said. "We believe that officials should be evaluated and performance issues addressed in the same way as players, coaches, club management and league staff. We have proposed several steps to accomplish this, including having a number of full-time officials and expanding the overall number of officials."
The NFL is offering to add three full officiating crews, increasing the total number of officials to 140. The NFLRA insists the compensation being offered with such an increase would reduce their pay.
The league is proposing having seven officials - one per position of referee, umpire, line judge, side judge, back judge, field judge, head linesman - who would train, scout, handle communications, safety issues and rules interpretations year-round. Now, all NFL game officials are part-time employees, with outside jobs ranging from lawyer to teacher to business owner.
In response, the NFLRA has said it is not opposed to full time officials "if they are fairly compensated."
The union also disputes the value of the league's current salary offer, which it says would not be the 5 percent to 11 percent increase the NFL claims.
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this story.