For a second consecutive season, the NFL finds itself talking about labor pains instead of football.
The league told its 32 teams today that replacement referees would officiate Week 1 games.
A year ago, a dispute with the NFL Players Association was all anyone could think about.
"In light of the current state of negotiations, we will have replacement crews on the field when the regular season begins," a memo from NFL executive Ray Anderson said, according to CBS.
"Our negotiations with the game officials' union remain deadlocked. Although we continue to be in touch with federal mediators, and are prepared to resume negotiations at any time, no discussions are currently scheduled," Anderson added.
The NFL season begins Sept. 5 with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants hosting the Dallas Cowboys.
Replacement refs have worked all pre-season games.
Salaries, pensions and job security are the largest issues.
The two sides were negotiating a new 5- or 6-year contract when negotiations ended earlier this year; the NFL locked out the refs in early June.
They are about $16 million apart on the salary issues, with the league offering 5-10 percent increases and the refs asking for 20 percent, ESPN.com reported.
It's a similar situation with pensions.
The NFL wants a "defined contribution" model worth about $20,000 annually, while the NFL Referees Association wants to keep its current plan in place.
The refs are also nervous about plans for full-time zebras.
They're just part-timers now – with most holding down "day jobs."
The league is asking to appoint seven full-time referees and form three crews that can be trained; think of them as "taxi squads."
The refs see it as threats to their job security, while the league frames it as ensuring the best officials for the job are working.
Simply, the NFL wants better control over refs that are underperforming.
"It is unfortunate, because the referees want to get back on the field," the NFLRA said in news release. "Our members have been engaged in extensive preparations and are ready to go. If the NFL is serious about negotiating, we are ready, but we can't negotiate with ourselves."