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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia yesterday reversed a $30.3M judgement against the NFL, saying "players cannot sue a league on antitrust grounds when their union is engaged in collective bargaining, even if negotiations have reached an impasse." In '90, the Bills' Tony Brown sued the league on behalf of 235 other practice squad players -- winning a $30.3M judgement two years later on the grounds that the league had "violated antitrust law." Yesterday's decision "orders the district court to dismiss the case against the league" (Dave Sell, WASHINGTON POST, 3/22). The decision also "impacts" the baseball situation since it would force the MLBPA to "decertify before it could file suit" -- even if MLB's antitrust exemption were removed. Judge Patricia Wald, who filed a 25-page "dissenting opinion": "The majority insists its ruling does no more than maintain a level playing field. The reality is that [yesterday's] decision sharply tilts the playing field in employers' favor and because of that will erode the vitality of collective bargaining itself" (Ronald Blum, AP/FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM, 3/22).
Labor talks between owners and players "remained at a standstill yesterday," according to Mark Maske in today's WASHINGTON POST. Acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr "ended two days of meetings in Washington without scheduling any formal negotiating sessions." One ownership source questioned Selig's resolve to get a deal and that Selig's ties to White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf, the owners' top hawk, are "stronger than ever." The source: "Don would like to meet. I'm not sure (Selig is) ready. ... The real problem isn't necessarily Fehr." On the players' side, sources indicated that the union may consider ending the strike, which would force the owners to vote on a lockout. But while one union source called it a "real possibility," another said it was "not under active consideration" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/22). AP cites sources with knowledge of the meetings who report that Selig "talked about raising their tax rates and thresholds, not lowering them to move closer to the union." Some involved on the players' side said that management officials had told them in recent days "that owners want to test the union's resolve, hoping that players would break ranks and cross" and that the owners "will attempt to delay" the NLRB's decision on whether to seek an injunction against the owners (AP/Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 3/22). ESPN's Keith Olbermann: "Hopes rose, and were then dashed at the strike talks." Olbermann reported that "key player reps" were told to come to Washington for strike talks, but then were told "to forget it" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/21). "THIS THING MAY NOT BE OVER FOR A LONG, LONG TIME": ESPN's Peter Gammons said "most of the optimism has dissipated" from earlier this week, and, if possible, "more of a gulf" exists with owners citing "economic poverty because so much income is being drained out of the industry already." Gammons: "Both sides seem to be focused on everything but a deal right now. ... Meanwhile, too many owners are getting harder and harder, saying, 'We've come too far not to try to win.' ... This thing may not be over for a long, long time" ("SportsCenter, ESPN, 3/21). In Philadelphia, Jayson Stark cites one "baseball man": "From what I'm hearing, it could be an ugly April." If management is successful in delaying the NLRB injunction process, "the earliest an injunction would be issued is about two weeks into the regular season" (PHILADELHIA INQUIRER, 3/22). HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL: In New York, Tom Keegan predicts a pre-Opening Day settlement: "Shame. That's the X-factor here. As the season approaches and the owners stop to think of the shame they are about to create, they will hammer out a deal that smarts only a little" (N.Y. POST, 3/22). BUD, BUD, HE'S OUR MAN: Mark Maske reports, "Indications are that Selig may be closer than ever to accepting the commissioner's job on a more permanent basis, although some ownership representatives apparently believe he might have a difficult time being approved once the longest and most destructive work stoppage on professional sports history finally is over" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/22).
"Cap dodging" in the NFL is the topic of a piece by Len Pasquarelli in this morning's ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. Citing Deion Sanders' recent deal with Sega -- which is reportedly dependent on him staying in San Francisco -- Pasquarelli writes, "Short of an in-depth investigation of a player's bank accounts and tax records, any complicity between an NFL team and a friendly corporate entity could be virtually impossible to substantiate." The topic was also raised at last week's owners' meetings. Saints Owner Thomas Benson: "You'd need the IRS and the FBI ... and you still might not turn up anything concrete." Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has scrutinized the 49ers/Sanders deal and found it "to be above board": "Endorsement contracts for players have been part of the game since Joe Namath arrived on the scene, if not before that" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 3/22).
An arbitration case involving the "criteria used in determining the average salary" was decided yesterday leaving the NHL and the NHLPA "co-winners." Arbitrator George Nicolau ruled the NHL can establish the methods for calculating the average salary -- "a procedural win for the league." But the NHLPA also "won" because marketing agreements between players and the league will be included in the calculation (CP/OTTAWA CITIZEN, 3/22).