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Sources Say Players Are Ready To
Strike Ahead Of Start Of MLS Season
MLS and the MLS Players Union yesterday issued a statement saying that they plan to continue collective bargaining, but sources say the union has prepared players to strike the first week of the season if the league is unwilling to give players greater rights. MLS and MLSPU officials yesterday met in DC for the second time this week. The meetings, which were the first between the parties since February 22, were attended by mediator George Cohen, Dir of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service. It is not clear if there is progress being made in the talks to avert a players strike. In a joint statement afterward, the union and league said, "MLS and the Players Union have agreed to continue collective bargaining agreement discussions with the FMCS." Sources close to the union said players -- who are seeking greater rights, including free agency -- have taken secret ballot votes about whether or not they should strike. The sources added that if the league and union do not achieve resolution in the next two weeks, players have plans to strike prior to the first game of the season on March 25. A strike is not expected to happen until near the start of the season for tactical reasons. Buzz Hargrove, former head of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, said he did not know any specifics of the MLSPU's strategy but said from a tactical standpoint striking the day of the season opener or just prior would make sense for the players union. "Your maximum advantage is prior to the season opener date," Hargrove said. "The pressure is on the owners to get the game going and get fans in the seats. If I were advising the union, my ideal (time to call a strike) would be the season opener" (Mickle & Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
PREPARING TO STRIKE? Toronto FC D Nick Garcia told the CBC yesterday that he expects the players to strike if a new CBA is not achieved before the start of the regular season. He added that the union is united and that beginning the season under the existing CBA, as MLS Commissioner Don Garber has proposed, is not an option. It was not clear if Garcia's comments represent a player speaking out on his own accord or as part of an organized union message. However, the league and union issued the joint statement shortly after the CBC posted the Garcia story (Mickle & Mullen). Garcia, one of TFC's two player reps, yesterday said, "We're anticipating not having the season starting (on time). As of now, for us, we're very far apart -- even with the mediator there in DC. We're hoping things can get done, but quite frankly I don't think we're confident things will." Garcia said starting this season under terms of the old CBA is the "one thing we are not going" to do (CBC.ca, 3/10).
TIME FOR A HISTORY LESSON: Washington Post reporter Steve Goff said MLS "does not have a foundation in this country like the NBA, baseball, and football, and even hockey, and we saw the impact that the work stoppage had on hockey a few years ago." Goff: "It took them years to come back, and that is a league with decades of history and tradition. So it would be a major setback to the sport in this country if there was a lengthy work stoppage" ("Washington Post Live," Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 3/10). Meanwhile, in Boston, Frank Dell'Apa notes those who "experienced the work stoppage in the North American Soccer League in 1979 are wondering whether both sides are familiar with the history of labor problems in professional soccer." Boston attorney Steve Gans: "Following the NASL’s two most successful seasons, the players struck. In 1977 and ’78, NASL teams had a lot of success and were getting TV contracts. The league had momentum. ... Of all the things that led to the NASL’s demise, that (strike) was one of the top five things. Not enough people cared about it to keep the momentum going. The critical mass wasn’t there; there weren’t enough roots set down" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/11).
Woods Gearing Up For Return To
PGA Tour At Arnold Palmer Invitational?
Tiger Woods has retained the services of Ari Fleischer to help plan a "strategy for his return to golf" at the PGA Tour Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill later this month, according to two golf sources cited by Mark Cannizzaro of the N.Y. POST. The sources indicated that Fleischer, who earlier this year helped Mark McGwire plan his public admission to steroid use, has been "huddling with Woods." One source said, "They were in his living room this week going over a strategy for how to handle Bay Hill in two weeks." Cannizzaro reports Arnold Palmer himself reportedly has "told some close confidants that Woods is definitely playing Bay Hill," which starts on March 25, and tournament officials are "preparing for a larger-than-usual media crush." Knowing he "eventually has to stand before everyone publicly and take questions ... is why Woods sought out the advice" of Fleischer, the former White House Press Secretary who in '08 formed Ari Fleischer Sports Communications. The firm is a joint venture with IMG, Woods' longtime agency. Meanwhile, golfer Mark O'Meara, Woods' longtime friend and neighbor, yesterday said he "wouldn't be surprised" to see Woods return at the Tavistock Cup, an event played at his home course of Isleworth on March 22-23. O'Meara believes the two-day exhibition matches might be a "nice way" for Woods to "ease back into the whole situation" (N.Y. POST, 3/11). Golf World's John Hawkins said, "Tavistock, Bay Hill and Masters offer isolation, a home game: 15 minutes from his door and the most tranquil and respectful galleries in golf at a major championship. He is not going to find a better stretch to come back at" ("19th Hole," Golf Channel, 3/10). ESPN.com's Bob Harig: "We all know he's going to come back at some point, and Bay Hill has long, long made a lot of sense." Harig notes it is "hard to believe now that he wouldn't be" at The Masters ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/11).
PREPARE FOR THE ONSLAUGHT: The AP's Doug Ferguson reported the PGA Tour in recent weeks "began checking with tournaments to make sure they were prepared to handle the hype" about Woods' return to golf. The Tour even is checking with tournaments Woods "has never played." Officials from events have been in "touch with PGA Tour officials about who is applying for media credentials." Ferguson noted "before Woods was exposed for cheating on his wife, there had been increasing speculation that he was considering the Transitions Championship one of these years." While this year "doesn't appear to be one of them" -- Woods needs to commit to playing the event by Friday -- Tournament Dir Gerald Goodman said that Tour officials "contacted him last week" in preparation of next week's tourney. Goodman: "They described it as talking to all tournaments. They gave no indication that they knew anything, they were just wanting to be thorough" (AP, 3/10). PGA Tour Radio's Brian Katrek said, "It doesn't matter where he comes back, it's going to be the biggest story in golf, just like his announcement at Ponte Vedra was the biggest story in golf. ... Wherever he goes, reporters will follow. Biggest story of the year no matter where he comes back" ("19th Hole," Golf Channel, 3/10).
NHL Competition Committee Will Decide On
New Rule To Curb Dangerous Blows To Head
The NHL Competition Committee is the "real arbiter of change, the body that ultimately will determine whether a new rule to curb dangerous blows to the head proposed by the GMs on Wednesday becomes a reality next season," according to Scott Burnside of ESPN.com. GMs, "once considered the stewards of the game, are quite simply no longer in a position to impact the NHL directly." Sources said that the GMs are a "vital cog in the game's evolutionary machinery," but they agreed that the "perception that the GMs are still the power brokers they once were is misguided, and it is the competition committee that needs to become visible to fans and media alike." The 10-person committee is the "bastard child of the NHL lockout, a body representing the game's stakeholders, including owners, GMs and players, that was negotiated into existence and essentially stripped the GMs of their previously unilateral ability to impose change as they saw fit." NHL officials "insist that recommendations from the general managers could be taken up by the board of governors regardless of what the competition committee decides, but the reality is it never happens and won't happen while the competition committee exists" (ESPN.com, 3/10).
RINGING ENDORSEMENT: In Montreal, Pat Hickey writes the "monster hockey ratings" from the Vancouver Games "have set up an interesting battle over NHL participation in Sochi, with the NHL, the players, whichever TV network wins the U.S. rights and a government or two joining the fray." NBC holds NHL rights through the '10-11 season, and should it retain rights to both the Olympics and NHL, it will be "pressuring the league to allow its players to compete, because the Olympics won't be worth as much without NHL players." The players are "in favour of playing in Sochi, and participation will become a bargaining chip" in the next CBA. There also "will certainly be pressure from the Russian government" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/11). The GLOBE & MAIL's Stephen Brunt wrote, "What a thing it would be for hockey to have someone at the helm who could ride the momentum from the Olympics, who could grab the owners by their lapels and say forget your dead-end ideas, now is the time to take a leap, to think internationally and reap big rewards down the road. Someone who could forge a relationship with the players based on real mutual interests rather than threats. Why leave Europe to the KHL, close the doors opened by the Olympic experience, when the alternative is the same-old, same-old game of diminishing returns?" Brunt: "Barring a remarkable transformation, Bettman just isn't that guy. And for hockey and those who love it, that's too bad" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/9).
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: In Boston, Charles Pierce wrote NHL Dir of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell, "confronted with a blatant and obvious cheap shot from a blatant and obvious thug that was a blatant and obvious attempt to injure" Bruins C Marc Savard, seems "prepared to take a dive on the whole affair." Savard suffered a concussion after a hit from Penguins LW Matt Cooke Sunday, but Campbell yesterday announced that Cooke would not be suspended for the hit. Pierce wrote, "This is the kind of nonsense you expect from the WWE -- not from the man in charge of policing the actions of the players in a putatively major sport. Someone higher up on the NHL chain of command should take Campbell aside and tell him it's time for juice and a nap now and put a grown-up in charge of keeping the players safe" (BOSTON.com, 3/9).
QUEST FOR REINSTATEMENT: NHL Officials Association President Brian Murphy yesterday at an Ontario Labour Relations Board hearing said that the NHL "unfairly 'mischaracterized' the abilities of referee Dean Warren when it fired him" in '08. Murphy said that "in the two years prior to his firing, Warren was conspicuously overlooked for playoff duty as the tone of his performance reviews turned decidedly critical." Warren is appearing before the board "seeking reinstatement as an NHL official based on allegations that he was fired because of his outspoken union activity" on the NHLOA Exec BOD. The NHL asserts that Warren was "fired for substandard performance on the ice" (TORONTO STAR, 3/11).
Crosby Maintains He Does His
Best To Balance His Schedule
Penguins C Sidney Crosby yesterday cited a “packed schedule” as a reason why he declined an invitation to present the Top Ten List on CBS' “Late Show with David Letterman” last week, according to Shelly Anderson of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. Following the February 28 Gold Medal game, Crosby’s Penguins hosted the Sabres on March 2 and then flew to N.Y., where Letterman tapes his show, to play the Rangers on March 4. Crosby said, “I do my best. That’s all I can do. It’s not the first year I’ve dealt with balancing everything. I’ve had that responsibility for a long time, and I think anybody who knows me well knows I take that seriously. ... Everybody’s not always going to be happy, but I do my best, and I do what I think is right, and I’ll continue to do that. There’s really nothing I can do if people disagree with that.” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, “Before anybody should weigh criticism, I would ask them to walk a week in his shoes and see how many times they say ‘yes’ and they say ‘no’ to what he does. The demands on his time -- inside our (locker) room and our organization, to our city, to outside our city when we go other places -- is extraordinary” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/11).
LISTING PRIORITIES: ESPN.com's J.A. Adande asked, "Would you rather have Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins playing in the Stanley Cup or appearing on the David Letterman show? Besides, is Sidney Crosby really that entertaining?" FanHouse.com's Jay Mariotti: "Why can't you have both? Why can't they win the Stanley Cup and appear on Letterman. They were in New York City at the time. I think you need to capitalize and strike when that fire is hot. … If I'm the league I'm pushing them for every late-night show, every morning show ... because you hit the masses." FanHouse.com's Kevin Blackistone: "They ought to be doing everything they can as a league to capitalize on it. Don't worry about Sidney Crosby. He's going to be on TV when the playoffs crank up" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 3/9). In Pittsburgh, Dave Molinari wrote, "Does anyone really believe that having Crosby read a ten-item list on a television show is going to have a meaningful impact on the NHL's popularity?" It is "perplexing that someone in the league office came to the conclusion that blindsiding him over the Letterman non-appearance was a shrewd move that would work to the benefit of the NHL and its member clubs" (POST-GAZETTE.com, 3/10).
LOST & FOUND: Hockey Canada yesterday announced that the Reebok stick Crosby used to score the Gold Medal-winning goal against the U.S. was found after officials “sifted through leads, watched videotape replays of the gold-medal game’s celebrations and figured it may have been part of a shipment bound for St. Petersburg, Russia,” home to the IIHF HOF. An IIHF staff member “was given one of several sticks” Crosby used during the game to be donated to the HOF, including the one Crosby used to score the game-winning goal. Meanwhile, Hockey Canada also announced that it has found Crosby’s missing glove. The glove was “mistakenly placed in the equipment bag” of Team Canada and Bruins C Patrice Bergeron (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/11).
"Floating" Realignment Concept Would
Allow Teams To Change Divisions Yearly
MLB's Special Committee for On-Field Matters is discussing the concept of "floating" realignment in which teams could change divisions yearly, but the idea is the "dumbest thing commissioner Bud Selig has ever considered," according to Richard Griffin of the TORONTO STAR. Moving teams among divisions "on a whim ... is a stupid concept." Griffin: "There must be another motive behind this initiative. ... Bud is not a dumb man, which leads one to believe he must be angling for something else before he retires in a couple of years. Like, for instance, a few additional wild-card teams" (TORONTO STAR, 3/11). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said, "This is absolutely absurd. Baseball's economic system is broken, so instead of trying to fix the system, it would try to fix the heart and soul of the game to make the system work. It makes no sense at all." He added, "Instead of this reorganization, how about relegation? How about doing what they do in the English Premier soccer league?" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 3/10). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "You can't just make it into 'Final Jeopardy!' that you wager next year, 'I'd like to be in that division and not this division.'" Kornheiser: "You want to set up a division based on poverty -- a poor man's division because you know that the Red Sox and the Yankees make so much money from TV that you can't compete -- that's fine. But I don't like the floating year-to-year" ("PTI," ESPN, 3/10).
NICE IDEA, BUT....: In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck wrote it is an “interesting concept that does have some support, but I seriously doubt it’ll get past the discussion phase.” Selig can “say all he wants that everything is on the table, but baseball is making too much money to do something that new and different” (BALTIMORESUN.com, 3/10). ESPN.com's Rob Neyer wrote of the concept, "It's not easy to imagine this working. ... I believe that if someone came up with a practical plan for realignment that would guarantee higher revenues for Selig's employers, he might support it. I just don't believe that practical plan is going to be found" (ESPN.com, 3/10).
MISSING THE POINT ALTOGETHER: NESN’s Scott McLaughlin wrote the concept “doesn’t get to the heart of what’s wrong with the competitive balance in baseball.” The problem “isn’t that the same three teams are forced to battle with the Red Sox and Yankees every year,” but instead that those two teams are “allowed to spend at will every season while mid-market teams simply can’t.” Nine of the last 14 Word Series have featured either the Red Sox or Yankees, “while no other AL squad has appeared more than once.” McLaughlin: “Is floating realignment going to fix that? No.” (NESN.com, 3/10).
THINK BIG, WORK SMALL: SI’s Tom Verducci called the committee a “think tank” that is “somewhat analogous to the NFL Competition Committee.” Verducci: “At least baseball is saying, 'You know what, let's not be totally whetted to this idea that everybody is stuck in these divisions and nothing is going to change.'" Syndicated radio host Dan Patrick said, “"I do like what the commissioner is saying. His head is not in the sand. He is trying to move the game forward to say to … smaller market teams, 'You'll have a chance'" ("The Dan Patrick Show," 3/11). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "You put these kinds of panels and boards together to consider pie-in-the-sky things and maybe small things come from these broader, big think proposals. … You think about your sport in different ways" ("PTI," ESPN, 3/10).
SI.com's Tom Bowles wrote NASCAR is "between the proverbial rock and hard place, trying to desperately shed the label of being the 'Boy Who Cried Wolf'" after only placing Carl Edwards on a three-race probation after intentionally wrecking Brad Keselowski in last Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500. Bowles: "At the beginning of the season, NASCAR made it clear drivers would be allowed to self-police on the racetrack. So if it suspends Edwards here, how does that make the organization look? You can't cherry pick tracks where drivers can retaliate. ... The bottom line is whether this behavior will be allowed, and for now NASCAR's decided to stick to its guns for once" (SI.com, 3/10).
SAME AS IT EVER WAS: The AP's Barry Wilner wrote the "absence of a salary cap has caused little change in how NFL teams approach the early stages of free agency." There still has been a "spending spree," highlighted by the $42M guaranteed the Bears gave DE Julius Peppers, but there have been "no astonishing eye-openers" outside of that. The "baseball-style bidding wars and stratospheric salaries some predicted simply haven't occurred." NFL player agent Peter Schaffer: "I see two things at work here. Instead of signing bonuses, teams are giving a roster bonus and when they kick in those bonuses under a salary cap, there will be no proration and their cap number won't be threatened. And I see teams preparing for a cap in the next CBA" (AP, 3/10).
BAD EXAMPLES: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and Jets CB Antonio Cromartie have been in the news in recent days for off-the-field issues, and in Jacksonville, Gene Frenette writes when NFL players "sully the league's reputation with bad decisions, and the amount of negative publicity it attracts, there's a tendency to think pro football is littered with punks who couldn't care less about how their behavior impacts everything around them." Frenette: "Maybe, if the Roethlisbergers and Cromarties gave real thought to the consequences of their choices, fans would come to realize the NFL has a lot more players willing to do the right thing than disregarding the privilege of their existence" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 3/11).