With the labor agreement between the NFL and its game officials expiring in less than a week, pro football will be heading back to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Washington, in the hopes of working out a new deal before a lockout or a strike.
Via Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the FMCS announced on Thursday that the league and the officials’ union have accepted an offer to submit their labor dispute to mediation, an informal process where the mediator has no power over the parties, other than possibly the power of persuasion.
The NFL’s labor dispute with players went to the FMCS before the lockout began. Once a federal antitrust lawsuit was filed against the league, it made more sense to conduct mediation within the confines of the litigation, for a variety of reasons (including the reality that mediation conducted under the umbrella of a lawsuit generally helps keep the parties in line, since the mediator has a pipeline to the judge).
The NFL already has commenced the process of lining up replacements, something the NFL did 11 years ago. Today, however, with unprecedented focus on player safety (and increased burdens on officials to spot possible concussions), an effort to replace the officials could be extremely controversial, especially in light of the current relationship between the NFL and NFLPA.
Especially if the officials strike — and if the players are inclined to respect their picket line.