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The NBA met with representatives of its locked-out referees association for more than three hours yesterday, but "little progress was made" toward reaching a new CBA. Jeffrey Miskin, the NBA's Senior VP/Legal and Business Affairs and league negotiator, said the two sides "remain very far apart on the economic issues." No new meetings were announced (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/13). As the exhibition season began, replacement referees were used. In Houston, Eddie Sefko writes the "backup players" used during the Rockets/Spurs games were "a lot better than the backup referees." Sefko: "Judging by the preseason opener, the league ought to up their offer or some coaches and more than a few players are going to go nuts." Longtime veteran Charles Jones: "They didn't have a clue. ... I think the league ought to lock these guys out, too" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 10/13). GOOD DEAL? SI's "Scorecard" notes the effect the new rookie salary cap is having on contract negotiations: "No whining. No griping. No shouted ultimatums. Can the NBA season be approaching this quietly?" Last year at this time four of the top 10 NBA draft picks were still unsigned and 11 of the 27 overall were holding out. This year with the wage scale, all 29 first round picks are signed. By "giving headstrong rookies and tightfisted owners little to argue about, the NBA has administered a giant aspirin to an annual headache" ("Scorecard," SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, 10/16 issue).
Jerry Jones struck back at the NFL's declaration that the Cowboys violated the NFL's salary cap with Deion Sanders' contract, claiming that the league responded "maliciously, carrying their marketing conflict into this dispute." Ed Werder writes in this morning's DALLAS MORNING NEWS that Jones vowed that the NFL's rejection will be "tenaciously challenged." Jones: "This is not about Deion Sanders' contract. This is about sticking it to the Dallas Cowboys." Werder reports that Jones "has declined compromise offers" from the league and will contest the league's ruling "with the highest possible authorities." The NFLPA will represent Sanders and the Cowboys in a two-step process for Jones' appeal. The two sides will first have a hearing before an arbitrator known as the "NFL special master." Werder reports that the loser can appeal to U.S. District Court Judge David Doty, who supervised the implementation of the league's CBA. Sanders' deal pays him $37.1M, with a $12.99M signing bonus. His salary is at the league minimum of $178,000 over the first three seasons. Although Sanders will average $5M a season over seven years, his salary counts for only $2.035M under the cap for the first three seasons (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 10/13). JONES GETS AN ALLY: In this morning's N.Y. TIMES, Allan Myerson reports that the NFLPA has joined Jones' side "raising the prospect of a broader battle with owners over the huge salary packages demanded by the game's superstars." NFLPA General Counsel Richard Berthelsen: "It's our view that the league has no leg to stand on" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/13). AND IF JONES CAN'T WIN WITH THE FORCE? An unfavorable ruling for the Cowboys would limit their free-agent spending and could force them to cut players "if an edict comes before the end of the season," according to Kevin Lyons in this morning's FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM. Jones added that he hopes the league's objections won't affect "the Cowboys' future regarding such things as the Thanksgiving Day game, scheduling and appearances on national television" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 10/13). REAX: On last night's TNT coverage of the Rams-Falcons game Kevin Kiley noted that "every deal Jerry Jones does now, he puts under a microscope ... I doubt that he broke the rules" ("TNT Wrap Up," 10/12). ESPN's Keith Olbermann: "If we need a new national soap opera to replace the State versus O.J., we may have found it - the NFL versus Jerry Jones" ("SportsCenter," 10/12). In Fort Worth, Gil Lebreton writes, "Jones is dead right on this one. ... If league owners were so suspicious of teams circumventing the salary cap, where were they last season, when San Francisco circumvented its way to the Super Bowl?" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 10/13). "The Empire strikes back," writes MORNING NEWS Columnist Frank Luksa, who notes that "Jones lacks support and a sponsor" within the NFL's "power structure." (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 10/13). "Fox NFL Sunday" will feature an interview with Jones by James Brown (Fox)