What's Buzzing:

NFL gives into public pressure and does right thing by bringing back regular officials

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

My fellow Americans, our brief national nightmare is over – the NFL's regular referees are headed back to work.

After three weeks of blown calls, no calls and reversed calls; of physical contact and verbal intimidation; of confused Vegas bookmakers and infuriated fantasy players; and less than 48 hours after what is perhaps the most bizarre ending to a football game not involving a Stanford trombone player, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association reached an agreement Wednesday.

"Our officials will be back on the field starting [Thursday] night," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement, referring to the Cleveland Browns-Baltimore Ravens contest.

Meanwhile, the much derided replacement refs can return to the ball fields of Division III, junior college and the lingerie league.

We're sure Bill Belichick sends his regards.

Score this one for public pressure, as the NFL, under intense scrutiny and criticism, finally acknowledged that the job of referee isn't just a replaceable occupation. As a tidal wave of tumult grew over the season's first three weeks – capped by Sunday and Monday nights' nationally-broadcast embarrassments – the league's hypothesis that it could pretty much round up anyone off the street, put them in striped shirts and the game would go on fine was over.

[Michael Silver: Welcome back regular refs; it's been too long]

View gallery

NFL officials will get back to work Thursday. (AP)

NFL officials will get back to work Thursday. (AP)

So the NFL, despite plenty of posturing and hardline talk to the end – what would a labor fight be without that – made a deal.

The refs will meet in Dallas on Friday and Saturday to ratify the eight-year contract and pick up their equipment and assignments. The pension deal they fought to preserve will remain for the next five years, according to reports, then it goes to 401Ks. There is a four percent pay raise.

The rest no one cares about. No one ever cared about any of it actually.

This was never about who won or who lost a labor deal. Until the lockout, few people knew or cared that the refs even had a union.

In the end, the NFL was battling over $3.3 million per year in pension payouts. That was a meager $103,125 per team per year for a $9 billion-plus industry. The entire "labor dispute" would have been comedic except players, coaches and fans wondered when it would be their team intercepting a Hail Mary and losing the game anyway.

The details on why the NFL finally budged will emerge in the days to come, but at this point, credit the owners, commissioner Roger Goodell and the referees' union for making this less about ideology and more about giving an insatiable customer base that's made them all wealthy [or wealthier] what they deserve.

"I want to give a special thanks to NFL fans for their passion," Goodell said. "Now it’s time to put the focus back on the teams and players where it belongs."

The NFL miscalculated and then mishandled the replacement refs from the start. The league initially found a weak crop to take the job, unable to lure top college officials either because they were already under contract or simply unwilling to leave regular high-level work for what was always likely to be just a few pay checks.

The result was an unqualified and at times incapable crew from high schools, small colleges and one preseason ref even fired from the Lingerie League for a lack of ability. The jump to the bigger, faster, most complicated and far more intense NFL was impossible.

While bad calls have always been and will continue to be part of the game – no one can officiate football perfectly – the replacement refs too often lost control of the flow and integrity of the games. There were too many flags or too much confusion. Play dragged, the action got choppy and rules were confused.

[More: Patriots' Bill Belichick fined $50,000 for grabbing ref]

View gallery

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has gotten through another lockout. (AP)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has gotten through another lockout. (AP)

They tried their best and at times did quite well. Other times, however, refs were intimidated by home crowds [Vegas began adjusting lines in accordance] as well as the vocal complaints of famous players and coaches. It's one thing to ignore the complaints of a 16-year-old sophomore. It's another when it's Ray Lewis.

The league failed to protect the replacement's psyche by offering zero tolerance for complaints from players and coaches. Instead, the substitute teachers were mostly thrown to the wolves. Weeks of watching enraged stars, often just trying to gain an edge from what they perceived as a weak official, grated on fans and broadcasters. All the arguing further undermined the replacements' credibility.

By Monday night, when two confused officials met in the corner of a Seattle end zone and tried to make sense of a contested last-second game-winning pass/interception, the situation had become untenable.

The NFL tried to claim it was the proper call on Tuesday but few believed them.

The idea of sending the same officials into Week 4 – where each mistake, even ones the regular refs would make, was set to be dissected – was something the NFL couldn't stomach. Neither could it deal with another week of fining future Hall of Fame coaches or rosters of players hammering the league on Twitter.

The replacement ref debacle had turned the NFL into a laughing stock and if there is one thing the league that likes to call itself "The Shield" despises, it's being mocked. Heartless, cheap, unfair, they can deal with. Just don't laugh at them.

[More: NFL power rankings: Recent Super Bowl champs slide]

Roger Goodell knew that much and after receiving the brunt of the blame for the lockout; he deserves credit for being in charge when the tide so quickly shifted.

Facing a crisis of its own making, the NFL humbled itself and compromised.

Three weeks into a bad experiment and less than 48 hours after a humiliating error it couldn't recover from, and the deal is done. The NFL is back. Finally, in full.

Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
Tim Tebow offered lifetime membership to Museum of Sex
The absurdly premature 2012 playoff picture
Larry Fitzgerald ditches favorite foods to prolong career
Y! Shine: Victoria's Secret pulls 'racist' lingerie

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Hockey
  • Manchester City in $400m Chinese investment deal

    Manchester City in $400m Chinese investment deal

    Manchester City announced Tuesday that a Chinese consortium is investing $400 million to buy 13 percent of the Premier League club's umbrella organization in a deal that values the business at $3 billion. Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin … More »

    AP - Sports - 5 minutes ago
  • Davis Cup triumph will fuel Australian Open bid-Murray

    Davis Cup triumph will fuel Australian Open bid-Murray

    By Martyn Herman GHENT, Belgium (Reuters) - Fresh from leading Britain to a long-awaited Davis Cup title Andy Murray is already looking ahead to adding more grand slam silverware to his collection next year. The 28-year-old played more than 100 … More »

    Reuters - 10 minutes ago
  • Neymar can define an era, Alves says

    Neymar can define an era, Alves says

    By Fabiana Formica BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona forward Neymar can be as good as he wants to be and will follow Lionel Messi in defining an era in soccer, his Barca and Brazil team mate Dani Alves predicted on Monday. Neymar has reached new … More »

    Reuters - 11 minutes ago
  • Everton's Martinez backs Boro for Premier League return

    Everton's Martinez backs Boro for Premier League return

    Middlesbrough have the quality to thrive in the Premier League and it is only a matter of time before they return to the top flight, Everton manager Roberto Martinez has said. Everton take on the second tier side in their Capital One (League) Cup … More »

    Reuters - 14 minutes ago
  • Sunderland's Allardyce targets festive upsets

    Sunderland's Allardyce targets festive upsets

    Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce has said the Black Cats will target a few upsets as they head into a testing festive period and urged his players to enjoy the challenges that await. After winning back-to-back games against Stoke City and Crystal … More »

    Reuters - 16 minutes ago