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NFL memo turns up the pressure in referee dispute

Like a lot of fans, my feelings to this point on the deadlock between the NFL and NFL Referees Association could be summed up in one sentence: Wake me up when it's the regular season.

Well, the regular season is one week away, and the NFL is moving forward with plans to start the year with replacement refs.

In a memo obtained by and NFL Network reporter Albert Breer, NFL executive vice president of football operations Ray Anderson told NFL teams that "we will have replacement crews on the field when the regular season begins."

I'm not a labor negotiating expert, but a memo like this could be designed, in part, to get the attention of the regular NFL refs. It's a recognition of the obvious that no progress has been made in contract talks, while also doubling as a way of playing hardball.

The most interesting part of the memo detailed how regular-season life will be slightly different with replacement refs.

"As part of our effort to support the replacement officials, we will employ procedures similar to those in effect in the postseason," Anderson wrote. "We will have an officiating supervisor from our staff in the replay booth at each game whose job will be to help ensure correct penalty enforcement, administration of rules not involving fouls, operation of the game and play clocks, and game administration.

"The supervisor will be able to communicate directly with the alternate official on the sidelines. The supervisor will not be involved in either the instant replay system or any judgment made by the officials on the field. As in all games, the final decision will be made by the referee on the field and no decision will be revisited or changed once the ball has been snapped for the next play."

Essentially, there will be an extra layer of surveillance in the house protecting the replacement refs from major gaffes. That only can be good. We've noticed improvement from the replacement refs in the preseason, although there still were too many long delays and confusion about some fairly basic rules.

We view the refs' performance like the players. The preseason doesn't really matter. It's all about how these men (and woman) perform when it counts.

It appears we're about to find out.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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