The NFL is set to feature part-time officials next season rather than granting full-time positions, according to a report from ESPN on Thursday night.
The decision comes as the league and officials negotiate on a new contract with the NFL Referees Association. The current deal is set to expire next May.
ESPN reported that the league still has the ability to change its decision and re-introduce full-time officiating positions for next season.
The league employed about 20 percent of its officials on a full-time basis last season, according to ESPN. Those who are categorized as part-time are required to stay away from league business from the end of the season until May. Regardless of designation, all officials effectively work full-time once the season begins.
Officiating has drawn intense scrutiny over the past several seasons, particularly in the wake of a non-call that helped the Los Angeles Rams capture the NFC title over the New Orleans Saints. A soon-to-expire contract, along with pressure for improved officiating from players, coaches and fans, could create a tense negotiation process between the league and the officials’ union.
In 2012, the NFL used replacement officials for several weeks after failing to reach an agreement in time with its officials.