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If there is going to be a negotiated settlement in time to save spring training, "the groundwork is going to have to be laid this week" (Jayson Stark, PHILA. INQUIRER, 11/29). BACK AT IT TODAY: The owners and players meet again today in Leesburg, VA, but the session "may be nothing more than the players officially rejecting the owners' tax proposal." The owners had expected the players to use the tax plan as a "framework for a new agreement" (I.J. Rosenberg, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 11/29). There had been speculation that the MLBPA would offer a counter-proposal to the owners' tax, but sources familiar with the "union's thinking said that the counter proposal will not be made until the executive board has reviewed it during a meeting in Atlanta next Monday" (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 11/29). MLBPA General Counsel Gene Orza was quoted last night on CNN responding to the owners' tax plan: "The more we analyze it, the less possible it seems to be the basis for an agreement" ("Sports Tonight," 11/28). However in Boston, Larry Whiteside cites sources who say that MLBPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr might resubmit the owners' proposal in an "amended form" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/29). FROM MANAGEMENT'S VIEW: Braves President Stan Kasten said if the players return to the table "under a pretext of continued negotiation" and make no counterproposal -- "that would be distressing and really would pretty much dictate what the owners have to do. Because we do need to go on with our business whether the union feels like participating in the future or not" ("Sports Tonight," 11/28). "There is every indication that the players will choose to stall until [December 5], which would put the owners in the uncomfortable -- and perhaps untenable -- position of declaring an impasse while there is a union counterproposal pending" (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 11/29). POST-IMPASSE: If the owners do implement their system, "the rift between owners and players will widen, making the start of spring training in mid-February with anything but replacement players unlikely." The union would be expected to file an unfair labor practices charge with the NLRB (Hal Bodley, USA TODAY, 11/29). Phillies Owner Bill Giles said another option would be to try to persuade the union to agree to a "freeze" on all aspects of the current system -- including the December 7th free- agent deadline and the December 20th deadline for tendering contracts to all unsigned players. But both sides would "probably wouldn't agree to that" (Jayson Stark, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 11/29). SIDEBAR: Owners' chief negotiator Richard Ravitch's contract expires December 31 "and the owners apparently don't expect him to remain on the job beyond then." Selig said that Ravitch has given no "indication of his intentions" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 11/29).
"The fact 'urgent' negotiations between the owners and players aren't expected to resume before Thursday -- the first day of December -- doesn't leave much room for optimism," writes Dave Fuller in this morning's TORONTO SUN. NHLPA Exec Dir Bob Goodenow spent yesterday on the phone with as many as 50 player reps and their assistants, "formulating what one agent described as 'final positions' on three key issues that could make or break a contract agreement." While some believe the season can still be saved, one source "close to the players" is not so sure: "I think [the season's] done. ... My worry is that the owners are expecting certain things and they're going to be disappointed. The thing is, where do the players go from here? There's no Plan B in place for them. It's fine if they've got something set up, but they've got nothing. This is going to change the NHL for good" (TORONTO SUN, 11/29). No talks were scheduled, although it is believed both sides will meet again later this week. LOOKING FOR SIGNS: Also in Toronto, David Shoalts sees "increasing signs" that the NHL could be back before Christmas: 1) Contact between the league and its officials regarding their physical condition; and, 2) Reports of a message from Goodenow to Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull and Marty McSorley that they had to be back from their planned European tour by December 15. League officials would not confirm the officials rumor. But, Goodenow flatly denied any contact with Gretzky or other Team Gretzky members. One source close to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, on the contact between NHL Dir of Officiating Bryan Lewis and the officials: "That's only to make sure our ducks are all in a row in the sense that (the labor impasse) could be settled by a certain date." NHL VP of Public Relations Arthur Pincus would only say, "We believe there's every reason to make a deal quickly, but right now that's not about to happen." Goodenow said "there's no date" to start the season (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 11/29). ASK THE FRANCHISE: Mark Messier spoke out against the owners' proposed free agency plan, whereby free agency would be granted to all players over 28 years old or with eight years experience, with the exception of a team-designated "franchise" player. Messier: "That's just another way of controlling salaries. And every team has a salary structure, whereby the franchise player is supposed to be the top-paid guy. Everyone else would be told they have to accept less than him, and he can't go to the market to get what he should." The NHLPA is said to be polling other top players on the idea (Mark Everson, N.Y. POST, 11/29). WINGS WON'T FLY THE COOP: Red Wings Paul Coffey, Sergei Federov and Steve Yzerman, all members of Team Gretzky, will not play in the December 1 exhibition against the IHL Detroit Vipers at the Palace at Auburn Hills, MI. Yzerman says it's "out of respect" for Red Wings Owner Mike Ilitch. Coffey: "You've got to draw the line somewhere." The NHLPA reportedly "wasn't pleased" with the trio's decision (Keith Gave, DETROIT FREE PRESS, 11/26)....Several players from the Whalers, Rangers, Islanders and Devils, as well as players with New England roots, are planning a charity exhibition to benefit the Special Olympics for December 18 at New Haven Coliseum (HARTFORD COURANT, 11/29).
At least one NFL team has asked the league's competition committee to study the use of a penalty box -- similar to the one used by the NHL -- "for players who deliver dangerous hits to a quarterback." NFL Communications Dir Greg Aiello confirmed that the proposal had been made, and noted that the idea has been discussed in the committee before. "But it has never made it out ... for a discussion by the team owners." Aiello, on the latest proposal: "It would be for flagrant hits on the quarterback, but not for other penalties. It would have to be determined how long a player would spend in the penalty box. Whether it's for a specific amount of time or a certain number of plays." What is not known, is whether a team would be allowed to replace that player on the field, or play short-handed. Several quarterbacks have missed all or part of games this season with concussions. But only one player has been fined for a flagrant hit on a quarterback (Timothy Smith, N.Y. TIMES, 11/29). THE IMPLEMENTER? NFL Dir of Football Development Gene Washington is profiled in USA TODAY. Part of Washington's job is setting the amount a player should be fined for certain rule violations (USA TODAY, 11/29).
Dick Moss, one of the main organizers of the proposed United Baseball League, was in Vancouver Sunday for the CFL's Grey Cup. Moss: "Vancouver is very important to us. There's the size of the city and a wonderful community for the players to live in. But the big thing is the domed stadium is here and ready for baseball." B.C. Pavilion Corp. officials met with Moss and partner Robert Mrazek on Monday about the possible use of the facility for a UBL franchise. The facility has also been in negotiations with the Mariners to lure the Seattle franchise across the border for 8-10 games a year. Mrazek: "We think this is a great business opportunity. But the real key is each team will be a true three-way partnership between the city, the owner and the players" (Lyndon Little, VANCOUVER SUN, 11/29).