NEW YORK (AP) The NFL increased its offer to locked-out officials yesterday and gave them a day to consider before deciding whether to go with replacements in the regular-season openers this weekend.

Paul Wong
Replacement referees confer during the second quarter of a Detroit Lions” preseason game. Regular game officials are in the midst of a labor dispute.<br><br>AP PHOTO

The offer includes a 60-percent increase in salaries this year, compared with the 40-percent jump in the NFL”s last offer. But the rest of the package remains the same, with officials” salaries doubled by 2003.

Tom Condon, the negotiator for the union, was on his way back to his Kansas City office, from where he would present the new offer to the 119 officials.

League spokesman Greg Aiello said the league had to know by today in order to make plans for the weekend.

“We hope the membership will consider it and respond favorably,” Aiello said.

Last week, the league locked out its officials, who have been without a contract since March. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the NFL didn”t want to start the season without a contract, which would allow officials to walk off the field at any time.

Last week”s final exhibitions were worked with replacements, most from college or the Arena League, and there were no major gaffes.

Talks resumed Tuesday and went for a half-hour yesterday morning, when the league put its new offer on the table. Over the long term, however, the two sides remain 50-75 percent apart.

The latest development leaves the NFL with two plans, one of which must be implemented by today. One has a slate of regular officials scheduled for the 15 games on opening week the other has crews of replacements, augmented by NFL supervisors, ready to get to the games.

Regardless of who works them, the replacement officials have been guaranteed four games at $2,000 per game.

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