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Referees Coming Back to Work

Three of the NBA's referees conferencing (Getty Images / Otto Greule)

The NBA and the union representing its referees have reached a tentative agreement to end a feud that would return the regular referees to work in time for the start of the season next Tuesday. In return for the NBA accepting a new deal, the union’s board will recommend that its members approve it Friday. This would set up a mini camp for the referees Saturday.

At the forefront of the new deal is a reformatting of the refs’ retirement packages. First, severance pay would be drastically cut; 20+ year veteran refs currently can receive $575,000 in addition to their pensions. Current pension plans would be altered to resemble 401k plans such as the ones that other NBA employees have.

In addition, D-League and WNBA referees will, for the first time, be allowed to officiate regular season games. They would get up to 75 games during the first three months of the season, but would still not be able to work playoff games.

Previously, the referees had been hesitant to make such concessions. Replacement referees during the 1995-1996 lockout did not work out very well as far as many parties were concerned, and the refs were afraid the pension reform would be used as an excuse to force older refs out of the league. Of course, the economy has softened their mood on the issue, already having led to an agreement to freeze salaries for a year with minimal increases the next year, as well as reductions in travel expenses. The current concession-filled deal is for two years rather than the usual five, so the referees can get some concessions back if the economy improves.

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