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Steelers Chair Emeritus Dan Rooney "isn't directly involved in negotiations between NFL owners and players, but he's concerned about the lack of progress and where that could lead," according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. Rooney, visiting the Steelers HQs during a break from his role as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, said, "We should have a deal. ... The games this year couldn't be better. The ratings are high. So why would you step back?" But Rooney said that owners are "united in their determination to scrap" the current CBA. Rooney: "Status quo is not an option." He added, "I just think the negotiators should get it together and start doing what they should do, and get a deal. If they sit down and work things out, I think they could have a deal rather quickly." When asked if the owners' lack of familiarity with NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith "has led to 'a distrust' that's complicating negotiations," Rooney said, "I don't know the personalities. There is maybe distrust. Maybe dislike is a better word. But that's beyond. You have a situation like this, you've got to get a deal. You've got to forget personalities." Meanwhile, Farmer noted "unlike many owners, the elder Rooney is staunchly against expanding the regular season to 18 games." Rooney said he "would rather not get the money" than expand the regular season. Rooney's comments were the "strongest-worded remarks on the issue from a team owner in months" (L.A. TIMES, 1/22). In N.Y., Judy Battista noted Rooney "differs sharply with the management position that an 18-game regular season is necessary and that the extra revenue it would generate would facilitate a deal." Rooney: "We play enough games. You have a system that works. Why add them?" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/22).
MISSING ROONEY'S PRESENCE: In Dallas, Rick Gosselin wrote Rooney "has long been a crafty middle man in NFL disputes -- someone who could work through problems behind the scenes and broker deals." But he said that he "has no intention of injecting himself into this dispute" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 1/22). Rooney is not part of the labor negotiations due to his diplomatic job, but SI.com's Peter King writes he wishes Rooney was involved. King: "The league needs more influential voices of reason to challenge the cockamamie idea of adding games in an era when concussions and injuries make it obvious that more games will dilute the quality of the product" (SI.com, 1/24). Meanwhile, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Rooney's comments "certainly did not make his fellow owners happy, or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell." With two No. 6 seeds advancing to the conference championship games, "one of the alternative solutions, according to the football front office people, that should be on the table ... is expand the playoffs to include at least a couple more teams and build some more revenue" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/23).
WAR OF WORDS CONTINUES: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday responded to claims from the NFLPA's Smith that the union is “at war” with the league regarding the current labor situation. Goodell prior to yesterday’s Packers-Bears NFC Championship game said, "I don't look at it that way. This is a business dispute and negotiations. We've been partners and we should continue to be partners. … This is not anywhere near a war. This is a business dispute that we've got to get resolved." He added, “These things don't get resolved by making a lot of statements publicly. They get done by negotiating and meeting with one another understanding one another and having a real serious negotiation and a commitment to getting something done" ("NFL Gameday Morning," NFL Network, 1/23). More Goodell: "I really believe this is a business dispute -- a negotiation -- and it's an opportunity for us to improve the game for the players and the clubs and for our fans" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/24). In N.Y., Sridhar Pappu profiled Smith, who last week at a meeting of nearly 20 recently elected player reps yelled, "We are at war!" Smith added, "Nobody gets strong without fighting. Nobody stays strong without fighting. Nobody negotiates their way to strength. Nobody talks their way to a good deal. Nobody sits down and just has miraculous things happen." Smith said the owners "always ask me, 'What can you sell to the players?' Sell to them? I work for them!" He added, "How condescending of a world is it where every time we sit down with these guys they say to us, 'What do you think you can sell?'" Pappu noted Smith "has sought the counsel of traditional labor powers" like United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard. Smith: "The NFL at every step has done everything to drive this union out of business. So when we get in times of labor fights, you quickly look around to who your friends are, and organized labor has always been there for those who've gotten their fingers dirty and broken their nose doing their job. Disparity never enters the picture" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/23). ESPN's Adam Schefter said, "Things right now are bleak, they're not looking encouraging and it looks like we're going to get a lockout in early March. It doesn't seem like the two sides are making progress. ... But keep in mind there will be a lot of rhetoric -- a lot of rhetoric -- until there is a new collective bargaining agreement at some point" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/24).
PLAYING HARD BALL? In Boston, Greg Bedard noted SI's King last week reported that there "may be a few hard-line owners so dead-set on having the new collective bargaining agreement revert to its pre-2006 status that they wouldn't mind losing a season." But several owners at last week's owners' meeting in Atlanta "disputed that." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft: "One nice thing that came out of here is I've never in 17 years seen the ownership as unified and supportive of what the management team is doing in the labor negotiations. We're really together. All teams, small teams, large teams. It's the most supportive I've ever seen, which is really good. I hope we get this deal done. There's enough there and we need people who want to negotiate on both sides. Good business people and less lawyers" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/23). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck wrote, "There hasn't been a serious sports labor confrontation in the past 30 years that didn't include reports that unnamed owners were willing to scorch the earth to get their way. That's in Chapter One of the management collective bargaining playbook" (Baltimore SUN, 1/22). Falcons Owner Arthur Blank said, "I think there will be football in 2011. We continue to work as hard as we can. We had an owner's meeting here in Atlanta on Tuesday of (last) week. I had a smaller meeting, a dinner with the commissioner on Monday night, with other owners as he arranged small owner meetings as he continues to pull the ownership together. ... We want a healthy league. A healthy league for all of the stakeholders." Blank said he is "hoping" talks "will accelerate." Blank: "We need to get the NFLPA to step up with the same sense of urgency to make that happen" (AJC.com, 1/24). Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson: "It is baffling we are not making more progress. The fact is we are just not making more progress" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/24 issue).
There is a "growing movement" among NBA owners as they negotiate with the NBPA for a new CBA to "add a new weapon to their arsenals -- a franchise player tag," according to Chad Ford of ESPN.com. The franchise tag, which the NFL has employed since '93, exists to "avoid losing a team's best player in free agency." NBA owners are "not unanimously in agreement on this one," and the charge is "being led by smaller-market teams that are becoming increasingly fearful that the teams in huge markets ... are creating dynasties that are impossible to keep up with." Owners such as the Lakers' Jerry Buss "aren’t fans of a franchise player tag because it would limit teams ... from luring top free agents in the summer." But several GMs believe that a "majority of the owners are on board and willing to fight for it." Ford noted while the "details of what the tag would look like are still up for negotiation (it may or may not follow the NFL model), the desire is there to get something done." One GM said, "It would be a huge coup for the owners if we can get this done. Not only would it give some modicum of control back to teams, but it would also help us to reduce costs by ending the bidding wars that have been taking place on the higher-end players." The franchise tag also "limits the power of NBA player agents to socially engineer teams." A separate GM said, "Agents have proven to be clever. ... The new way they are asserting power is by trying to aggregate their star players on the same team." An NBA player agent said, "The franchise player tag has been devastating for NFL players. ... In the NBA, with smaller teams, the impact would be paralyzing. You can pretty much kiss free agency goodbye" (ESPN.com, 1/21). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said, “Players, quite obviously, hate this idea.” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said, “Players are going to hate this, agents are going to hate this. What this says is that the NBA no longer believes in the Bird Rule because the NBA’s now afraid that players will take flight for less money to go to different teams.” Wilbon: “A lot of things that players want they’re not wiling to stay out for and they’re not willing to fight for because they caved in 1998. But this is something worth fighting for” (“PTI,” ESPN, 1/21).
READY TO HELP: Celtics F Paul Pierce said that he "plans to participate in a negotiating session at All-Star Weekend" in L.A., as he did last February in Dallas. Pierce: "I’ve been keeping up with it and if we have a meeting, I probably will participate. I’m one of the older players. I’m probably one of the ambassadors of the league moving forward. I basically just want to see the league in good hands when I’m all done. That’s basically my reasoning. Even though the other (younger) guys moving forward are going to be around a lot longer." He insisted that the "veterans will have the best interests of the younger players at heart" throughout negotiations (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/23). T'Wolves F and player rep Anthony Tolliver said, "I did a lot of research last summer, before I signed the contract here, about the collective bargaining agreement. So I'm pretty well-versed on the current one." He added, "The general mood is the owners are far away from what we want, so we're preparing (for a lockout). So the advice we're giving is be prepared for it. It's a pretty big deal" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/23).
TIME TO MAKE CUTS? Lakers coach Phil Jackson "agrees with his girlfriend," Lakers Exec VP/Business Operations Jeanie Buss, in regard to contraction in the NBA. Buss in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week said, "Contraction is something we have to consider. ... We may be in some markets we shouldn't be in." Jackson on Friday said, "I think that's what the commissioner said. So I think she's probably parroting what the commissioner said. I will parrot what both of them said" (L.A. TIMES, 1/22).
NASCAR President Mike Helton Friday "strongly indicated the points system used since 1975 will be scrapped for a simpler scoring method," according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. Helton, speaking from Daytona Int'l Speedway, said, "The goal for some time has been to create a points system that is easy to understand, easy to explain, easy to be talked about, but also be credible at the end of the season. ... We're in the middle of the conversations, actually telling the competitors where our mind is. The main goal is to get one that's just easier to understand and simpler. And we're close." Helton "defended NASCAR's credibility, which many fans are questioning because the changes are so close to the start of the season and how the championship will be won hasn't been formally announced." Because NASCAR officials "want feedback from competitors," Helton said that the "rule changing process takes time." He added that that approach "legitimizes the changes" (AP, 1/21). In Charlotte, Brant James reported it "appears the only detail left, or at least [to] confirm, is a mechanism for using bonus points to reward wins." Helton said that "most of the 'stakeholders' ... consulted during the process have lined up dutifully behind any and all changes in the name of placating fans" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/23). Driver Kevin Harvick said, "If you look at the new point system, I think it's easy to understand. And those are the people that need to understand it are the people who aren't here every week, live it, breathe it, and really understand how the sport works. It's the casual fan that we need to recapture and make it exciting and easily understandable" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 1/22).
RACE TO WIN: In Charlotte, Scott Fowler writes, "The new system will be logical and easier to explain." But "simple isn't enough." Fowler: "I’m worried that NASCAR’s new way to keep score still won’t put nearly enough emphasis on winning, in which case the whole idea falls flat once again." Helton "seems sensitive to this issue," and Fowler noted after listening to him speak Friday, "I'm convinced the first-place finisher will undoubtedly get a bonus of some sort." But the winner of each race "better be rewarded far more lavishly than he ever has before" (THATSRACIN.com, 1/21). Driver David Ragan said, "Everyone knows they're going to use that one-through-43 thing. I think all that's left to figure out are the bonus points. I think they want to make winning more important" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 1/22). Meanwhile, former driver and current ESPN analyst Dale Jarrett said that NASCAR "should put more emphasis upon taking the checkered flag and upon rewarding winning drivers monetarily." Jarrett: "There needs to be a bigger premium put on winning. ... The PGA pays almost a million dollars to the winner of an event. I don't see why we can't come somewhat close to that" (USATODAY.com, 1/22).
LACKING EXCITMENT: ESPN.com's David Newton wrote the proposed points system "raises the excitement meter like watching" a test session in the rain. It "promotes consistency over winning more than ever and opens the door for drivers and teams playing it safe more than ever." But it "doesn't fix what ails the sport." It "might be simpler to understand," but "were fans and drivers really confused by the old system?" NASCAR "will tell you it was a primary concern," but, as Jimmie Johnson "reminded us, it won't put fannies in seats and improve television ratings." Johnson: "I don't think it's a huge strategy to engage the fans more from an attendance standpoint or a viewer standpoint" (ESPN.com, 1/21).
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford "hopes to bring" an NFL franchise to the city, and his brother, Toronto Councillor Doug Ford, said that "four groups have approached city hall with hopes of bringing a team north," according to the CBC. Toronto "has made attempts to bring a team to the city in the past, most notably in 1989 and 1995 when a group led by Paul Godfrey made a bid for a team." But Toronto Sun sports columnist Steve Simmons said, "I just don't see it happening. They can't sell their ads that they sell on U.S. television here. They can't market that way here" (CBC.ca, 1/21). Doug Ford said, "To be a world class city, at least a North American world class city, we need an NFL team." He added the NFL "can't ignore a market like Toronto," as it is the "fourth largest city in North America." In Toronto, Jonathan Jenkins noted in "keeping with the bedrock Ford value of fiscal conservatism," Ford said that "no public money would be involved, either with the purchase of a team or the construction of a stadium." The Jaguars and Chargers are "two teams possibly on the move," but Ford said that he is "so far only talking to private investors and hasn't opened a conversation with the league itself" (TORONTO SUN, 1/21).
NOT A PIPE DREAM: Godfrey, Publisher of the National Post, said the idea is "not a pipe dream." Godfrey: "I am confident the NFL is on Toronto's horizon. It is difficult to put a time frame on it but I do know Toronto has everything. It's a city that stands on its own with corporate head offices, strong employment and loads of football fans." Godfrey "believes the mood, acceptance and success will be more positive" than the Bills Toronto Series "if the NFL team being marketed was Toronto's own" (TORONTO SUN, 1/22).
WRONG APPROACH: In Toronto, Royson James wrote there is "nothing wrong with the Ford Boys stoking the fires of a dying dream" as long as they "have enough energy left to fix the other big-ticket items on their city hall plate." But you can "just tell the Ford Boys know nothing about anything regarding impressing the NFL." James: "The most successful sports league in North America is a closed fraternity of old rich guys who do their business in private and don't take kindly to front-page blowhards demanding a piece of their most prized sports properties" (TORONTO STAR, 1/22). Also in Toronto, Dave Perkins wrote, "You want to even think about playing ball with them one day, you toe every line and never, ever pretend they need you in the least. The league already has plenty of compliant billionaires on hand. It wants rich silent partners and takes on no other kind" (TORONTO STAR, 1/22).