NEW YORK (AP) -- For the first time in 14 years, replacements will be on the field for NFL games. Replacement officials.
The NFL referees' union rejected the league's latest contract offer on Thursday, and replacement officials will work at least the opening weekend of the regular season.
''We have tried very hard to get a deal with an unprecedented offer to double the compensation by 2003,'' league spokesman Greg Aiello said. ''At this point, there is no solution other than continuing to use our alternate officiating crews.''
The NFL Referees' Association executive board unanimously rejected the offer presented Wednesday. Tom Condon, who represents the officials, informed Jeff Pash, the league's lead negotiator, of the vote in a letter.
The league is proceeding on a week-by-week basis, but with no new talks scheduled, the 112 replacement officials and six league supervisors likely will work games beyond this weekend.
''We will make a decision on Week 2 early next week, but it seems likely the new crews will be out there for Week 2,'' Aiello said. ''The union already has our best offer.''
On Sept. 3, Pash sent a letter to Condon when the NFL formally rejected the union's proposal.
''The commissioner and club owners cannot consider the officials' compensation in a vacuum,'' Pash wrote. ''They have the responsibility to evaluate the fairness and reasonableness of your proposals in relation to the compensation and benefits -- and the expectations -- of the approximately 4,500 non-player employees of the league and the 32 clubs.''
The league upped its offer to the locked-out officials on Wednesday from a 40 percent raise in the first year to a 60 percent raise, and gave them 24 hours to respond. Aside from the 60 percent increase, the rest of the package remained the same, with officials' salaries doubled by 2003.
Condon conducted a conference call with board members Ed Hochuli, Bill Carollo, Jeff Bergman and Ben Montgomery, and they rejected the offer.
During the first on-field labor dispute in the 12-year tenure of commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the NFL has guaranteed four games at $2,000 per week to the replacements, including last week's exhibitions.
Condon says the NFL is asking for trouble. He told Associated Press columnist Jim Litke in a radio interview:
''I think what basically will happen, as you look at the NFL, we expect an absolutely superlative product, which is what we have gotten,'' Condon said. ''We expect great performances from the players, that the coaches will make excellent decisions, and you expect excellence from the officials.
''The NFL's published number is 99.85 percent accuracy rate (for officials). Whether you see anything blatantly obvious on the field that makes us say, 'We can't stand for that, it is so bad,' any dropoff in the officiating competency is certainly a step away from what the fans are used to.''
New York Giants owner Wellington Mara agreed that the level of officiating might drop this weekend.
''We don't expect them to do the great job that our regular officials do,'' he said of the replacements, ''but they will do a very workmanlike job, and the safety of the players will be adequately protected.''
One player saw the use of substitute officials as an advantage for his team.
''It's scary, but I really believe, and I'm serious about this, we may be the only team in the league that may benefit from replacement refs,'' Raiders receiver Tim Brown said. ''Because, there's no doubt in my mind that people come into Raiders games with preconceived notions of what's going on in the games.''
Another veteran, Giants tackle Lomas Brown, is eager to get to know the replacements.
''I already told them I'm going up there and introduce myself to all of them,'' he said. ''I'm going to try the NBA stuff with them. You know what I'm saying? The superstars seems to get the calls in the NBA.''
Condon claims the replacements' work already has been inadequate and will only get worse when the real games begin.
''They were bad last week, they didn't call a penalty on Arizona for the entire game,'' he said. ''They had two TDs that weren't TDs and were allowed. ... They had eight late dangerous hits, none of which were called.
''When you are talking about the officiating, you would like to think the outcome of the game is determined by the great world-class athletes that are competing against each other -- not that we used to get a 99.85 (rating) and now we get 75 percent of the calls correct. I don't think the fans think that is good enough.''
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