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While there were reports over the weekend that CFL Commissioner Larry Smith was engaged in last-ditch talks to save the Las Vegas Posse, it appears that the league is ready to go ahead with a "dispersal draft" of Posse players today (TORONTO SUN, 4/18). On Friday, the CFL again suspended the franchise after efforts to sell the team to FL-based developer Norton Herrick and move it to Jackson, MS, again fell through. Herrick pulled out after failing to convince local MS politicians to cover his estimated $3M annual loss. Any further talks seemed directed at avoiding legal action. Noting that the Posse is a publicly-owned company, Calgary Stampeders Owner Larry Ryckman said, "By law, it is our responsibility to say we did everything we could to sell the Las Vegas Posse. The league is in a very tenuous situation with this public franchise." One league source described the situation as "the worst mess the CFL has ever gotten itself into. This is a serious problem -- a very serious problem" (Allan Maki, CALGARY HERALD, 4/15). TOUGH TIMES: In Baltimore, Ken Murray writes, "The CFL was left with a huge credibility crisis and a shell of a franchise." In three years of U.S. expansion, the CFL "has made its share of clumsy mistakes." But the "mishandling" of the Posse "could be the low point." Robert Wanzel, a sports management instructor at Ontario's Laurentian Univ.: "If we were bush league before, what are we now?" (Baltimore SUN, 4/18). In Vancouver, Kent Gilchrist writes, "Never before in the league that has been around since 1909 has it been exposed to the ignominy and credibility-sapping of the last month" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 4/18).
Late Friday afternoon, the NBPA and Charles Grantham released a joint statement announcing Grantham's resignation as NBPA Exec Dir. The release cited "irreconcilable differences concerning matters of Association governance." NBPA President Buck Williams said Grantham was leaving on "amicable terms." NBPA General Counsel Simon Gourdine will assume Grantham's duties, effective immediately (NBPA). WHAT BROUGHT IT ON? Two sources close to the union told the N.Y. TIMES that the NBPA executive board "either ousted Grantham or allowed him to step down under pressure, mainly because he had failed to move along negotiations" for a new CBA. NBPA Exec VP Charles Smith: "After months and months of talking about the future, and what needs to be done, it just got to the point where we saw a difference of opinion and it wasn't going to change" (Mike Wise, N.Y. TIMES' 4/15). In an interview, Grantham shed little light on the situation: "I analogize it to a coach and his players. When things don't go as you wanted them to for a long time, what do you do? You get rid of the coach." Grantham "vehemently denied" that he had pushed for a work stoppage, but "admitted his proposals and vision, ultimately, were not going over with the union as well as they once had" (Mike Wise, N.Y. TIMES, 4/16). HOOP WRITERS REACT: In New York, Peter Vecsey writes, "Common sense dictates something definitely went down the wrong wind pipe and it had nothing to do with Grantham's collective bargaining work. Either Grantham did something funny or he lost a power struggle to Gourdine." Vecsey suspects the former, citing word of "unnecessary trips at the union's expense" (N.Y. POST, 4/18). In Chicago, Sam Smith writes, "The resignation is not considered good news for the NBA since Grantham was a more experienced negotiator, suggesting some hard-line players may be moving to a position of power, which would lead to uncertainty for the league" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/16). Lacy Banks writes, "For the players to lose their top leadership in the middle of negotiations certainly is no show of strength" (CHICAGO SUN- TIMES, 4/16). In Boston, Mark Murphy writes the move "would seem to indicate serious division within the ranks" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/15). Jackie MacMullan writes, "As the dust settles, league officials will try to determine whether the union was unhappy with Grantham because it thought his stance on the [CBA] was too hard or too soft" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/16). In Dallas, David Moore writes the resignation "may change the tone of negotiations with the NBA, but it's not expected to change the substance" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/16). In Denver, Mike Monroe writes, "What's clear is that something had to be very wrong inside the union for Grantham to leave before an agreement" (DENVER POST, 4/16). WHERE DO TALKS STAND? In Washington, Richard Justice cites "various sources" who say Grantham's resignation "won't affect labor negotiations. A deal apparently will get done during the playoffs and will include a rookie salary cap" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/18). In New York, Mitch Lawrence cites a union source who reports "some progress" and says that a union counter-offer made in the last month would "not change the landscape as dramatically as has been indicated." Notes Lawrence, "In other words, a cap still will be part of the deal" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/15). OTHER QUOTES: NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik released a statement praising Grantham: "We have always maintained a productive business relationship with the union's leadership and are confident that this relationship will continue with the union under the direction of Buck and Simon" (Mult., 4/15). One NBA official: "It came right out of the blue. We'd heard nothing to indicate there was a problem" (Richard Justice, WASHINGTON POST, 4/15). Mark Fleisher, a former member of the Agents Advisory Committee for the CBA and son of Grantham's predecessor, Larry Fleisher: "By coming out so early and saying he wanted to put an end to the salary cap, and the draft, and restricted free agency, he boxed himself into a corner. And, when he ended up shuffling back from that corner, he lost a lot of credibility, both with the league and with his own people" (Jackie MacMullan, BOSTON GLOBE, 4/16).
While Acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig continues to insist that Chuck O'Connor has not been removed as general counsel of the Player Relations Committee, he "acknowledges that his daily legal briefings are now conducted by Rob Manfred, formerly the PRC's No. 2 lawyer." And with the owners' legal strategy "under fire," Nashville attorney Robert Ballow "continues to move into a more prominent role" (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 4/16). Replacing O'Connor with Ballow will bring "the real war," predicts agent Tom Reich (Peter Gammons, BOSTON GLOBE, 4/16). COLLUSION III? MLBPA Exec Dir Don Fehr said an investigation is under way to determine if owners are guilty of collusion in signing free agents since the strike ended. Selig called the suggestion "so ludicrous it's hardly worthy of comment" (Hal Bodley, USA TODAY, 4/18). UNION BLACKLIST: Fehr made the rounds of training camps providing players with lists of replacement players. In Boston, Mike Shalin writes, "Do they really need to know?" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/15). In K.C., Jonathan Rand writes the union "clearly has too much free time. Last time anybody looked, there was still no collective-bargaining agreement" (K.C. STAR, 4/17). In Cleveland, Bill Livingston writes, "It smacks of the blacklist of the McCarthy era" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 4/16). MLBPA General Counsel Gene Orza said the union has informed all players that harassment or retaliation against replacements is illegal (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 4/18). In New York, Bill Madden notes Fehr was telling the players they "won" the labor stand-off. But Madden asks, "Won what?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/15). PRESSURING BUD: USA TODAY's Hal Bodley reports members of MLB's Executive Council "tried again to twist Selig's arm" to become permanent commissioner. While Selig again resisted, "if he thinks he can serve the game, he'll reluctantly accept the job -- as early as the owners' meetings in Minneapolis, June 6-8" (USA TODAY, 4/17).
The MLBUA lowered their salary demands yesterday, but their new proposal was not enough for the AL and NL to consider ending their lockout of the umpires, according to Murray Chass in today's N.Y. TIMES. MLBUA General Counsel Richie Phillips said the new proposal represents a 40% raise, down from 53% in the previous offer. But management negotiator Robert Kheel disagreed, "saying the front-loaded nature of the increases makes the package far more expensive than Phillips portrays it." The umpires propose a salary range from $90,000 for rookie umps to $265,000 for those with 30 years or more. The owners have offered a 10% increase. Kheel, on the latest MLBUA proposal: "We're very discouraged" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/18). LOOK FOR THE UNION LABEL: Phillips said the umpires are not asking the players to honor their informational picket lines during spring training, but that "will change" during the regular season. Phillips: "We're going to ask the players not to cross those picket lines, not because we want to out them on the spot but because we feel compelled to do that." MLBPA General Counsel Gene Orza said the players "have not resolved nor addressed" the issue of umpires' picket lines (Murray Chass, N.Y. TIMES, 4/15). Former umpire-turned Yankees TV analyst Steve Palermo said he would not work on MSG Network telecasts until the regular umpires return. MSG Exec Producer Mike McCarthy said the network supports Palermo's stance (N.Y. POST, 4/15).