St. Petersburg, Fl. - It's the day NFL fans have been waiting for. It appears the NFL and the referee' union have reach a tentative contract agreement to end the lockout which began in June. This means you'll see them on the field for Thursday night's game between the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens.
The lockout of the refs hit a critical point on Monday night after a blown call caused Green Bay to lose to Seattle. The call became national headlines and pushed for serious negotiations between the union and the league. The union was seeking improved salaries and retirement benefits and a major sticking point was pension plans. Wednesday night, after two days of talks, the sides announced a tentative 8-year deal, which must be ratified by 51 percent of the union's 121 members. They plan to vote Friday and Saturday.
So, what will change as of Thursday's game? Well, besides being less frustrating for fans, players and coaches, the games will be quicker. The 48 games this season have taken an average of 9 minutes longer than they did through three weeks last year.
Here's why: 20 more coaches' challenges have been called through the first three weeks of this season compared to 2011. While overall penalties are slightly down, the replacement refs have also called 23 more defensive pass interference and 25 more holding penalties. There have already been eight games that took longer than 3 hours and 30 minutes to play. Which is more than the total in Weeks 1-3 from 2008 to 2011, combined.