The NFL has put its full-time officials program on hold as part of ongoing labor talks with the NFL Referees Association, multiple sources said Thursday.
Barring a turn in negotiations, the decision means the NFL will revert to its previous structure of using a full roster of officials whose employment status is part-time.
From a practical standpoint, the move will have minimal impact on officiating this season. Most of the additional responsibilities assigned to full-time officials are focused on offseason work. Functionally, all officials work full-time once the preseason begins. But the move represents a step backward for coaches, players and fans who have implored the NFL to use every means available to improve its officiating.
Neither the NFL nor the NFLRA had a comment Thursday night.
The league's collective bargaining agreement with the NFLRA expires on May 31, 2020, and both sides hope to avoid a repeat of its ugly 2012 lockout of officials. That year, the NFL used replacement officials through the first three weeks of the regular season.
It is unclear what prompted the league to take the program off the table during the course of negotiations, but sources familiar with the situation noted that it could be reintroduced before any agreement is finalized.
Started in 2017, the full-time officiating program taps approximately 20% of the 122-person officiating roster for additional training and consulting during the offseason. Full-time officials take part in rule development, competition committee discussions and offseason visits to teams. In return for full-time status and additional pay, those officials agree to prioritize NFL work above other occupations. The program has a rolling one-year structure that requires renewal every summer.
The remaining 80% of officials have retained part-time status, which requires a "dark period" of no contact between the end of the season and the middle of May.
All game officials and supervisors are in Dallas this weekend for their annual preseason clinic.