SBD/February 3, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL's Jeff Pash Raises Possibility Of Extending CBA Deadline

Pash calls for intensive, ongoing negotiations regarding new CBA
NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash raised the possibility yesterday that the NFL may not lock players out on March 4, when the CBA is set to expire. While it has been widely expected that the NFL will lock players out after midnight, Pash said during an update on CBA negotiations, "If you are making progress (toward a new deal) you can stop the clock." Pash spent much of the press conference calling for more negotiations and saying that both players and the league would be hurt economically the longer there is no agreement. Bob Batterman, the league's outside labor attorney, talked to reporters after the press conference and explained that it was possible to extend the deadline if the two sides were close, although he did not characterize that as a likely scenario. "We have the option to lockout," Batterman said. "We have the option -- if the parties at 5 in the afternoon on March 3 ... are close and they think they need another day or two to actually get it done ... but they think they can get it done. Of course, they can stop the clock. You just agree to freeze everything where it is and treat March 4th and March 5th ... as if it was March 3rd," he said. The NFL has done this in the past, extending the deadline to get a deal done in ‘06. The deadline was extended about a week before agreeing to the current CBA. Meanwhile, Batterman said the owners were unified in wanting a new economic system. "The only other time I have seen owners as unified as they are here is in 2004 and '05 in hockey, where there was also complete unity," said Batterman, who was outside labor counsel to the NHL during the '04-05 NHL lockout (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).

LET'S TALK: USA TODAY's Sean Leahy notes Pash issued a new call for "intensive, serious and ongoing negotiations." Pash: "The time has come for both parties to make a shared commitment and devote all their energy to accomplish a successful negotiation by the beginning of March." Pash "repeated his refrain that the financial consequences from even a short lockout would be severe." He added that it is "time to remove the rhetoric from the labor fight." Leahy writes Pash's comments represent the "latest round of saber rattling that likely will continue today" as NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith is scheduled to address the media (USA TODAY, 2/3). Pash said of the talks, "What we're going to see, I hope, is that we're going to have the litigators and lobbyists stand down and the negotiators take center stage. We both have a lot to lose and we both have a lot to gain. When you have a solution like that, it should be relatively easy to get to a meeting of the minds. We've always done so in the past." Pash added NFLPA President Kevin Mawae "said last week that they got a great deal in '06." Pash: "There's no disagreement that this is an unbalanced agreement that needs to be reset. It's just a question of where the reset is" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/3). Pash noted that both sides "should have an incentive to come up with a new system that will help the NFL and its players prosper." He added that while "salaries to players have doubled in the past 10 years," a new system "could allow the players to see that kind of growth in salary for the next 10 years" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 2/3). Pash acknowledged that the NFL "has made concessions in talks with the union, but he declined to discuss what they were." He added that "if two more regular-season games were added, the players would benefit financially because there would be more revenue to share and potentially more players in the league" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/3).

GROWING THE GAME: Pash "explained management's need for what the union claims is an 18 percent rollback in pay as a response to rising costs and dwindling income." He claimed that "money would be used to grow the game in many ways, including internationally." His theory was that this "would create 'shared opportunities' for players and owners and, in the long run, they'd all make more money." In Boston, Ron Borges writes the "only problem is the average player's career lasts 3 1/2 years and is estimated to go down to 2.8 years if management adds two more regular-season games as they are proposing while the average owner is around for 3 1/2 decades." Pash also claimed that the NFLPA "does not dispute that expenses are up and revenue is down" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/3). Pash "detailed what 'growing the pie' might entail." He said that this "could mean more games in London -- and a possible franchise there -- as well as bigger rosters and better benefits and health-and-safety research" (L.A. TIMES, 2/3).

FRANCHISE TAGS AROUND THE CORNER: In Boston, Greg Bedard reported "barring some sort of court challenge by the players' union -- and it would likely be fruitless -- NFL teams will be able to use the franchise and/or transition tags in eight days." There has been "some discrepancy on whether the tags could be used this year and applied to the 2011 season, mostly from the union side." But NFL Management Council Senior VP/Labor Relations Peter Ruocco said that the league "has told teams they can apply the tags in a 14-day window beginning Feb. 10." The NFL "has told teams the tag rules would be the same as they were in the 2010 uncapped league year: one franchise and/or one transition tag at their disposal." When asked "why the league wouldn't wait until a new agreement is in place," Ruocco said, "Because the window to tag them is now" (BOSTON.com, 2/2). Meanwhile, an NFL official said that an arbitrator yesterday "rejected a grievance by the union attempting to force the league to pay for health insurance for the players after the expiration of the labor deal and potentially during a work stoppage" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/2).

LABOR ISSUE OVERSHADOWING SUPER BOWL? With Goodell being featured on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated, ESPN's "Around The Horn" wondered whether the labor situation is bigger than the Super Bowl. ESPN's Bomani Jones it is "absolutely" bigger than the Super Bowl, and the SI cover "is an indication of that." Jones: "They didn't do that because they just decided people wanted to see Roger Goodell. They did that because they think that's where people's hearts and minds are. The union is in Dallas and they're doing their best to be seen." Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, "The labor issue does hang over everything. The players talk about it. They don't really want to answer questions about it. It's on their minds, it's on the fans' minds." But ESPN's J.A. Adande said, "I don't think the general public will be generally concerned until we get to the point where they're about to lose games" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 2/2).
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