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MLB owners are reportedly ready to resume negotiations with the players for a new collective bargaining agreement, according to Murray Chass in this morning's N.Y. TIMES. Two owners, speaking anonymously, told Chass they expect talks to begin shortly. One owner said reaching an agreement was stressed last week at the owners meetings in Minneapolis: "The pressure's on and it's coming from all directions. [Marlins Owner Wayne] Huizenga, [Orioles Owner Peter] Angleos and others spoke, people from different positions. The consensus clearly is let's get it done." Lawyers from both sides have been meeting to reach a settlement on the charges levied by the NLRB against the owners, and if some progress is made, "they are expected to ask for a postponement of the trial" on the NLRB's points scheduled to begin in New York on Monday (N.Y. TIMES, 6/12). OPINION ON SPEED-UP RULE CHANGES: In New York, Phil Mushnick writes that "if the owners think teams' affiliated TV and radio networks ... will comply with a rule designed to hit their bottom line by a minimum of 17 30-second commercial spots per game, the owners are pushing a fantasy." MSG Network Exec Producer Mike McCarthy, said the rule change "will create a huge problem ... These ads are already sold" (N.Y. POST, 6/12). The N.Y. DAILY NEWS' Bob Raissman writes the changes will produce "some major fallout" as TV and radio rights holder will look for rights fee reductions (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/11). But Red Sox Broadcast VP Jim Healey said the rules will speed the game without hurting rights holders: "This will still allow three 30- second commercials, as at present" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/9). In Dallas, Randy Galloway writes the time change will also mean less trips to the concession stand, "unless of course, the concessions stands are better staffed" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 6/10). In Milwaukee, Kevin Seitzer said: "If people think that the games are too long, tell them to go to the movies or something" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 6/10). In Boston, Jack Craig writes the rule will have a "direct impact on television replays." Craig notes that four 30-second spots would be reduced to three on The Baseball Network's telecasts -- a 25% loss of revenue of which 87.5% is split between the teams. Craig writes, "It will be surprising if the shortened half-innings, back by new discipline, are ever imposed on national telecasts" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/11). ESPN's Peter Gammons called for a 20-second clock: "The pace of the game is slowed down so much by pitchers wandering around" (ESPN, 6/11). DESTRUCTIVE CRITICISM: David Letterman: "Mets and Yankees fans have been shortening games all season -- they leave after the third inning." His "Top Ten Proposed New Baseball Rules:" 10) Clothing optional in dugouts; 9) Infield chatter must be in the form of a question; 8) Knock out beer vendor with ball and you automatically win the game; 7) Extra outs for every person on your team named "Mookie," "Scooter," or "Pee Wee"; 6) Games will not start until the players' drugs have kicked in; 5) No more keeping your eye on the ball; 4) Goodbye Gatorade, hello Riunite!; 3) If catcher snags your pop foul, he gets to make out with your wife in the stands for awhile; 2) No team roster may include more than two dismissed Simpson jurors; 1) Reach a base, do a shot ("Late Show," CBS, 6/9)....ESPN's Keith Olbermann on Sunday's Pirates-Marlins game -- without Gary Sheffield: "This could have been the least interesting game of the Twentieth Century" ("SportsCenter," 6/11). "Fans Taking Themselves Out of the Ballgame" was the headline of a front-page piece in Sunday's WASHINGTON POST. Orioles Owner Peter Angelos: "The continual hammering of baseball by the media is a signification factor. ... Maybe the media should let up a bit" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/11).
"The NBA owners will impose a lockout once the Finals are over if they are unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with their players," according to officials involved in the negotiations cited in this morning's DALLAS MORNING NEWS. David Moore reports that sources around the league confirm that a "formal directive" has been issued to each club stating that a lockout will go into effect the day after the Finals. That directive also states that, while the league will conduct the draft on June 28, "all other business -- summer training camps, contract extensions and free-agent signings -- will halt." NBA Commissioner David Stern, at The Summit for Game 3, "did not deny that the league is headed for its first work stoppage." Stern: "Our teams have been fully briefed on the options available to the Labor Relations Committee if no agreement is reached by the end of the Finals. We still hope that such an agreement is obtainable and won't be commenting on the other options at this time." Neither NBPA Exec Dir Simon Gourdine nor NBPA President Buck Williams were available for comment. Publicly, league officials remain optimistic, but privately they are "worried." Moore reports that NBA officials say the players would not agree to the owners' hard cap proposal and that the players want a larger revenue cut than the owners. One official said the players' latest proposal would increase the salary cap from $15.9M level to around $22M for '95-96 (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 6/12). ON THE BRIGHTER SIDE: CNN's "Inside the NBA" featured the NBA's growing popularity. Magic GM Pat Williams: "It's up with the baseballs and footballs, and knocking on the doors with the big boys." CNN's Bob Lorenz noted the NBA's 3% increase in attendance, while MLB's numbers have dropped 26.2 percent. L.A. TIMES' Mark Heisler: "The bottom line is that baseball is very tough for a TV set to encompass ... Basketball is perfect." Magic Forward Horace Grant: "Baseball, what's baseball?" Kelly Carter of the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: "You look at the MTV generation, they don't have the attention span to watch baseball, everybody wants everything fast paced now." Bill Walton: "The players, because of the salary cap, feel a responsibility for the overall bottom line of the product" (CNN, 6/11). INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR: In it pre-Finals special last night, NBC profiled the progress of the Raptors and Grizzlies. Toronto VP/Basketball Ops Isiah Thomas: "This isn't a job for me, this isn't a career for me, this is a commitment for us to build a winning organization. ... It's the most challenging thing I've done in my life." Grizzlies VP & GM Stu Jackson: "My vision is that one day, basketball will be woven into the country of Canada" (NBC, 6/11). Greg Boeck, of USA TODAY, noting that Canada is country "Number Two": "I think David Stern really wants to go into Mexico City. If not by the 2000, shortly thereafter" (CNN, 6/11).
While the NBA Finals took center stage on prime-time last night, a double-overtime thriller in the NHL's Western Conference Final was relegated to ESPN2. The game was shown on local outlets in the Chicago and Detroit areas. But for other fans, who only got limited action after "Sunday Night Baseball," access to the game was clearly limited. Earlier on ESPN's "Sports Reporters," talk centered around hockey's proclaimed rise during last year's Stanley Cup, and the seeming drop in interest this year. Bob Ryan, on hockey vs. basketball: "The NHL is still on the second tier." Mike Lupica: "I think people mistook a hockey boom on 33rd and Seventh Avenue in New York City for a nation- wide hockey boom." Lupica added that Gary Bettman should be rooting for a Flyers win because the league "needs a star like Eric Lindros ... This guy could be a real hockey star in this country, and this sport needs it." John Feinstein: "The lockout happened, the owners blew it, you can't forget that. They had a great opportunity in October to get off to a flying start, with no baseball and the new Fox contract. Instead, they sat around and negotiated for three months then played this aborted 48-game season" More from Lupica: "It wasn't the sport of the '90s as they were hoping it would be, it's the sport of 1994" (ESPN, 6/11). NORTHERN BLIGHTS: In Toronto, Al Strachan calls this year's NHL playoffs a "debacle" and asks, "Can anyone remember a season in which the fans were so disinterested, so bored with the proceeedings." Strachan blames the league for giving in to Fox's desire for afternoon games: "Hockey fans do not see their sport as an afternoon game like tennis or soccer. It is a night game and it does not seem right to watch it at other times, whether an American network wants us to do so or not" (TORONTO SUN, 6/10). During the Flyers-Devils Game 4 on Saturday, CBC's Harry Neale called the league "inhumane" for making the teams play two games in two days. Neale: "They have to be more aware of the health of the players" (Rob Longley, TORONTO SUN, 6/12).
The Supreme Court could rule as early as today whether or not it will hear a case for 18 current and former NFL players who say they were unfairly represented by NFLPA-paid lawyers, according to this morning's WASHINGTON POST. The suit seeks to overturn a portion of a '93 U.S. District Court settlement that led to the current CBA and prevents players from suing the NFL for damages allegedly incurred from '89 to '92, when the NFL used its Plan B system of restricting free agents. If the Supreme Court declines the case and doesn't send it back to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for further action, then it will die and the NFL and the NFLPA can continue talks to extend the CBA. If the Supreme Court takes the case and rules in favor of the 18 players, it could lead to hundreds of suits by players whose contracts expired from '89 to '92. In addition, the NFL retains the right to cancel the entire CBA if any court allows players to opt out and sue. Dave Sell notes that whether or not the owners would do so, and what would result if they did, is "unclear" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/12). OTHER WOES: Will McDonough reports in Sunday's BOSTON GLOBE that the NFL is "getting nervous" about Malcolm Glazer having not finalized the deal to buy the Bucs. Glazer has until July 14 or the team becomes the property of the Culverhouse estate (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/11)....The Falcons have sold fewer than 40,000 season tickets this year and will start offering three-game packages to pick up sales (Tim Tucker, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 6/11). The task force of regional government and business leaders working to keep the Bengals and Reds in Cincinnati plan to update OH Gov. George Voinovich and OH Senate President Stanley Aronoff on Tuesday. The group hopes to have a detailed plan to Bengals owner Mike Brown within two weeks (AP/Baltimore SUN, 6/10).