NEW YORK -- The NFL will start hiring and training possible replacement officials with a deal not yet completed with the NFL Referees Association.
Talks between the league and the officials broke down after two mediation sessions. The two sides had been negotiating since October and have said they expect a new collective bargaining agreement in time for the upcoming season.
But that optimism has disappeared.
A session was held Sunday under the auspices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and the NFLRA said the league "terminated negotiations" on Monday.
The league said that regional training sessions for replacement officials would begin this month "to ensure that there is no disruption to NFL games this season."
"Our goal is to maintain the highest quality of officiating for our teams, players, and fans, including proper enforcement of the playing rules and efficient management of our games," the league said in a statement.
The league will look to hire officials from anywhere but the BCS conferences because those officials are run by NFL officials, and the NFL doesn't want to put the BCS officials in an awkward situation.
The NFL's search would target retired college officials and perhaps current ones who would be qualified to work professional games.
Referees counsel Mike Arnold called those replacements "amateur referees."
"It is unfortunate that as referees' responsibilities are expanded that the NFL would jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game by seeking amateur, under-qualified referees to administer professional games," Arnold said.
Detroit Lions quarterback Sean Hill prefers to see the usual game officials on the field.
"We hope our regular crews are ready to go after they get everything worked out," Hill said. "But if not, the game has to go on."
The players' union expressed its concern about replacement officials, issuing a statement saying:
"In 2011, the NFL tasked officials with increased responsibilities in protecting player health and safety, and its search for scabs undermines that important function. Professional athletes require professional referees, and we believe in the NFL Referees Association's trained first responders. ..."
In 2001, the league used replacement officials for one preseason game, then the first weekend of the regular season. An agreement was then reached, and another CBA was negotiated in 2006 that expired after last season.