SBD/January 3, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFLPA Complaint Over Guaranteed TV Deals Set For Review

A special master tomorrow in N.Y. will "review the complaint the NFLPA filed in June over roughly $4.5 billion in league TV contracts that are guaranteed to pay off even if no games are played next season," according to Dan Graziano of FANHOUSE.com. Witnesses "will be called Tuesday and evidence presented by both sides." The NFLPA "will seek to prove that the owners, in negotiating those [TV] deals, took less money than they could have got from the networks in exchange for the money being guaranteed." The union also contends that the TV money "could act as 'lockout insurance' to cover the owners and allow them to cancel games and not suffer great losses while they wait for the players to give in to their demands." Should the union win the case, it will "ask that the $4.5 billion be held in escrow until a new" CBA is reached. Graziano wrote if the NFLPA is "right about the owners counting on that money to help them endure a lockout, it's possible that the owners could become more motivated to negotiate a deal before a lockout is imposed or any games get canceled." If the union also can "prove that the owners violated the current CBA by failing to seek and obtain the maximum possible value of the TV contracts," it is possible that it "could seek to have some or even all of that money awarded to the players as damages" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/2).

PESSIMISTIC RHETORIC: NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello in an e-mail said of the labor talks, "There is a fair agreement to be made if both sides are equally focused on reaching an agreement. We do not see any signs that the union is interested in reaching an agreement at this point." NFLPA President Kevin Mawae said, "The reality is, we are no closer than we were after our last major negotiating session." NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir of External Relations George Atallah said that players "will not be convinced they should take less money until they see the teams' financial statements." Mawae added that players "have not been convinced that extending the season" to 18 games "is a good idea because it would shorten careers and increase injuries and medical costs" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 12/31). Colts C and player rep Jeff Saturday: "I know from a player's perspective, we're hearing so much talk about player protection and that's been the consideration from the commissioner for so long. Then why are we extending the season? You're extending yourself to two more 'full-on' games" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 12/31). ESPN.com's Howard Bryant said a potential 18-game schedule is the "ultimate hypocrisy because … this is the year of concussion. Safety has been THE issue in the NFL." Bryant: "This, I believe, is really going to be a line in the sand issue coming up in 2011." Miami Herald reporter Israel Gutierrez said, "It should be recognized that 18 games is far too long, but the money is too important to the owners in the league" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 1/2).

SMITH WEIGHS IN: In Pittsburgh, Ed Bouchette noted there is a "general belief throughout the league that an 18-game schedule is a fait accompli." But NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith said, "I'm not sure I would say that because, look, the players don't want to play 18 games, and, right now, there's a proposal on the table from the league that does not address the health and safety concerns of the players, and we rejected it." Meanwhile, Bouchette wrote the NFL this season "continually whacked" the Steelers with "fine after fine" for illegal hits. Smith said, "I know the Steelers are frustrated, and to me it underscores or emphasizes what we have been and what the players really have been complaining about for decades -- in the NFL, there is no independent arbitrator of fines or punishments. It goes to two hearings officers and the appeal is reviewed by a league official. Basketball has an independent arbitrator, baseball has an independent arbitrator, and so does hockey. We're the only sport that does not." Smith added the union intends "to be meeting with the NFL over the fines -- the players, the amount, the consistency of enforcement" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 1/2).

GOODELL'S TAKE: Goodell this morning sent out an e-mail thanking fans for their support and looking ahead to the new year. Goodell addressed CBA negotiations, writing in part, "Yes, NFL players deserve to be paid well. Unfortunately, economic realities are forcing everyone to make tough choices and the NFL is no different. A significant change would be to resolve fan complaints about preseason by modifying our 20-game format. Fans tell us they don’t like the quality of the preseason games, and we’re listening. An enhanced season of 18 regular season and two preseason games would not add a single game for the players collectively, but would give fans more meaningful, high-quality football. Our emphasis on player health and safety is absolutely essential to the future of our game. We are strictly enforcing rules that protect players from unnecessarily dangerous play, especially involving hits to the head" (THE DAILY).

TIME FOR A CHANGE? The Browns today fired coach Eric Mangini, joining the Panthers, 49ers, Vikings, Cowboys and Broncos in making coaching changes this season. In Boston, Greg Bedard noted "within a week, there could be as many as" six additional vacancies, which is "quite a change from last season, when just three teams made changes." But with a lockout "looming in March, teams face the prospect of getting fans excited -- and selling tickets -- without knowing when football will be played again." Bedard: "That's especially tough if the status quo isn't very exciting or successful, so many owners may take the initiative by pushing a new face and new direction of the franchise in front of fans to at least distract them from the labor woes" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/2).

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