Gene Steratore is one of the regular NFL officials who returned to work on Thursday after the Referee's Association reached a deal with the league to end the lockout. (AP)

Gene Steratore is one of the regular NFL officials who returned to work on Thursday after the Referees Association reached a deal with the league to end the lockout. (AP)

The NFL and its referees struck a deal on Wednesday to end the lockout of regular officials. Sports Illustrated’s legal analyst Michael McCann, who is also the director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School, joined Bill Littlefield to discuss the terms of the agreement and how it was reached.

“To the credit of the officials, they knew how to generate leverage,” McCann said on this week’s Only A Game. “They largely received what they were seeking because of the inability of the replacement officials to credibly officiate games.”

McCann said the regular NFL officials managed to leverage higher pay and a delay in giving up their pensions.

“The NFL did get the ability to add officials, so it wasn’t a total win for the officials.  But still I think the circumstances this week and Monday night’s game [between Seattle and Green Bay] changed the dynamics,” McCann said.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell believed replacement officials would be adequate, McCann said.

“They clearly were not,” he said. “The commissioner underestimated the learning curve for an NFL official and the ability of NFL officials to withstand crowd scrutiny.”

The league wanted to designate officials as full-time employees, a distinction that would limit the ability for many of them to have other jobs, McCann said.

“The officials would rather have a situation where they can have a job during the week, where many of them make six figures and have other benefits,” McCann said.  Because NFL officials generally have other jobs, McCann says they were able to withstand a few weeks without a paycheck from the league.

“The NFL had to turn to Division III refs or those who had officiated in minor league football, really people who were not capable of jumping right into the NFL,” McCann said. The uproar over these referees finally caused the NFL to broker an agreement and allow the regular officials to return.