NEW YORK -- NFL referees began voting by e-mail Tuesday on a plan that could end a lockout and have them back on the field when play resumes Sunday, two league sources said.
A source familiar with the labor dispute, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 10-member executive board of the NFL Referees Association had agreed on the vote during a conference call Tuesday morning. The league set a deadline of noon EDT Wednesday for the result.
Tom Condon, the lead negotiator for the officials, said he believed a deal was close. But he said he had made no final deal. Asked about the e-mail vote he replied: ''I don't have any plan to send them to vote on.''
''They might have jumped the gun,'' he said of the NFL.
But the sources said the vote was already under way.
If approved, the deal would end a lockout that covered the last week of the preseason and the first week of regular games. Those games were worked by replacements.
Both sides acknowledged the move toward an agreement was precipitated by the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington that caused commissioner Paul Tagliabue to call off last week's games. A union source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the referees took that into consideration when they went back to bargaining.
A basic package was put in place Sunday night in Pittsburgh, the sources said.
Bill Carollo and Jeff Bergman represented the union and Steelers owner Dan Rooney and lead negotiator Jeff Pash represented the NFL.
Two union sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Carollo and Bergman were chosen because they were considered less confrontational than Ed Hochuli, who had done the bulk of the negotiating. But the sources emphasized that Carollo and Bergman had been in touch with Hochuli throughout the negotiations.
According to the NFL sources, the agreement is the same in total monetary value as the package proposed by the league on Sept. 4. It would double salaries in the first year and increase them by 100 percent in the fourth year of a six-year deal.
The league had no comment.
''We will only comment when a deal is ratified and in place,'' NFL spokesman Joe Browne said.
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