NEW YORK (AP) -- The NFL is about to learn what happens when its oft-criticized officials are not on the field.
With the breakdown of talks in Dallas between the league and the NFL Referees Association, replacement officials will work exhibition games, the first labor stoppage among officials in NFL history.
The lockout will begin Thursday night, when six exhibition games are scheduled.
The contract expired last March and the two sides have been negotiating since. Most of the replacements will be from NFL Europe or the Arena League, and league supervisory officials, all former field officials, will also be on hand.
''We have a duty to our fans and teams, and we cannot go into the regular season with the threat of a sudden work stoppage by our game officials,'' commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Tuesday. ''Despite our efforts, we remain far apart, and the officials' negotiators have repeatedly refused to consider a no-strike, no-lockout agreement with the NFL covering the 2001 season.''
The officials said the NFL had reneged on some of its pension and benefit improvements. Their salary proposals were 50-75 percent higher than the NFL's offer, which doubles most current salaries by 2003.
''I respect our officials, and regret that we haven't been able to get together, but they just want too much money,'' Dallas owner Jerry Jones said. ''There are just too many other qualified people out there that are willing to do it for the right price.''
The news didn't make many players happy.
''I'm sure every player feels the way I do, we want all the refs to be out there,'' Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre said. ''I think they deserve more. How much is not up to me.''
''We've worked hard and put a lot of time and effort into this, and we want the best possible guys out there,'' New York Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde said. ''I believe those are the guys who have been calling our games through the history of the league.''
''The replacements have a lack of experience in our arena, the NFL,'' said safety Robert Griffith, the Minnesota Vikings' union representative. ''You see something over and over, you're going to get better at it. Our officials get better at making the calls.
''We are the league. The players are the league. We want to be protected.''
The lockout marks the first time there has been any kind of job action involving NFL officials.
There have been three in major league baseball -- in 1979, 1984 and 1995 -- plus an episode two seasons ago when union umpires submitted their resignations and baseball accepted them, replacing a large group of long-term umpires. There also have been three in the NBA -- in 1977, 1982 and 1995 -- and a two-week action in the NHL in 1993.
The two sides in the NFL dispute had hoped to reach agreement during their meetings Monday and Tuesday in Dallas.
Tagliabue broke off his trip to Mexico City for the Raiders-Cowboys exhibition game to meet with Tom Condon, the agent who is representing the officials.
They negotiated for four hours Monday night and again for two hours Tuesday morning before breaking things off. Tagliabue, who has prided himself on labor peace during his 12-year tenure as commissioner, returned to New York for a conference call with a group of owners on the situation.
Financially, the two sides are far apart.
The NFL is offering an official entering his fifth season $62,103 in 2001, compared to the $42,295 he would have made last year as a fourth-year official for regular-season and preseason games plus various meetings and clinics. In 2003, he would earn $84,470.
The union, meanwhile is asking that a fifth-year official be paid $95,000 per season starting this year, an increase of 50 percent.
For senior officials, the difference is greater. The NFL is offering officials with 20 or more years of experience $120,998 this year. The union is asking $210,000, a 75 percent different.
The two sides are also using the other major sports for comparison. The three others use full-time officials and the NFL's are part-time, although by Condon's figures they work an average of 1,200 hours a year.
So the union noted that even if its offer is accepted, NFL officials would be the lowest paid on an annual basis. The NFL responded with a chart showing that per-game compensation in its 16-game season is double and triple the other leagues' at the 20-year level.
''We reviewed their offer and thought their offer was inappropriate and didn't address the contribution that the officials make to the game,'' Condon said Tuesday morning. ''They thought our offer was excessive and asked for too much.''
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