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SBD/March 15, 2011/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
NFL Players trade association leader Kevin Mawae yesterday during a conference call "called the assertion that the players walked away from negotiations 'a complete fabrication and a lie,'" according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. Mawae said that "during Tuesday and Wednesday last week, over the course of 16 hours spent in mediation," the owners and the players "met face to face at the negotiating table for a total of 30 minutes." Mawae said of the owners, "When you say you've done everything you can, and then you ask for a caucus that lasts 3 1/2 hours and then you take off for dinner at the end of the day? That's not negotiating, and that's not the NFL players walking away from the deal" (L.A. TIMES, 3/15). Mawae said that "of all the misrepresented statements by the NFL, the worst was the claim that the players walked away from the negotiations." YAHOO SPORTS' Doug Farrar noted George Atallah, spokesperson for the players' group, "tag-teamed on this as well, saying that the NFL's timeline view was ridiculous, and he half-sarcastically wondered if he should present time-stamped photos of the fax machine used to send the decertification papers so that people would know what happened when" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/14).
TOO LATE IN THE GAME: Colts C Jeff Saturday said of the CBA proposal offered by NFL owners on Friday, "It just seems odd you would wait until Friday to put out a 20-point proposal, when each point has a number of different details in it." Atallah said of the talks, "The perception is that we were really, really close. The reality is we really, really weren't." Atallah said that "because the NFLPA says it no longer is a union, but rather a trade association," any decision to "return to negotiations would be up to the lawyers representing the players" instead of DeMaurice Smith, head of the players' group (ESPN.com, 3/14). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell notes Mawae, Saturday, Saints QB Drew Brees and former NFLer Sean Morey during the conference call "remained staunch in their demand that owners provide more financial data and characterized the NFL's last-ditch offer Friday as a public-relations move." Brees: "A lot of it, I think, was all a front, all a show, with no real intent to get a deal done, except to say they made a proposal." The players said that talks "might not have broken off ... had owners presented their proposal earlier in the week" (USA TODAY, 3/15).
NEVER WILL ACCEPT 18 GAMES: Mawae during the call also said that the 18-game regular-season schedule "heavily pushed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as part of a new collective bargaining agreement 'never will be' accepted by his group." Mawae: "Eighteen games is not going to happen through NFL player negotiations. We can't justify that for the health and safety of our players." FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez notes the NFL's Friday proposal "called for a 16-game regular season in 2011 and 2012, with the subject being revisited between the two sides" in '13 (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/15). Meanwhile, Brees, who is one of 10 plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit against the league, said he is "one of the lead plaintiffs because it's important to me." Brees: "I represent not only the 1,900 players in the league now, but guys that played before us whose shoulders we're standing on. They're the ones who created what we have in this league. We represent the guys that are coming to (play) after us." He added, "I feel very strongly about our case, and the facts and the law" (NEWSDAY, 3/15).
Irsay says he and Manning are close
friends despite labor divide
OWNERS CLAIM DEAL WAS THERE TO BE DONE: Patriots Owner Robert Kraft yesterday sent a letter to the team's season-ticket holders discussing the current labor situation. Kraft wrote, "The league and the owners presented the players' union with a comprehensive proposal that we believe was fair and benefited both parties. We hoped it would serve as a basis to continue negotiating in good faith toward a final agreement. This proposal gave the players many benefits and off-season scheduling changes that they had been seeking. It also offered a 14% increase in compensation, representing a total of $19-20 billion over the next four seasons. Unfortunately, the players' union walked away from mediation and the ongoing negotiations last Friday, without responding to this proposal. Rather than working collaboratively, they chose to initiate litigation against the clubs" (BOSTON.com, 3/14).
POINTING FINGERS: In Philadelphia, Paul Domowitch writes under the header, "NFL Players Join The PR Game Of Spinners And Losers." Domowitch: "If the NFL owners and players had put as much effort into negotiating a labor deal as they seem to be in trying to win the hearts and minds of America's football fans, everything would be sweetness and light and I'd be writing about which free agents the Eagles might be interested in signing rather than fun stuff like decertifications and lockouts and preliminary injunctions" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/15). A Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW editorial states it is "difficult to have much sympathy for the mess that the National Football League finds itself in." The editorial: "Actually, it's difficult to have any sympathy." If the dispute results in a "no-game or fewer-game season with replacements, the backlash could be severe" (Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 3/15). However, SI.com's Peter King wrote he believes the players and owners are "closer to a deal than anyone thought Friday night." King noted when he "left the Westend Bistro on the edge of Georgetown just before midnight Thursday," Saturday and Goodell were "deep in discussion in the bar." Also, when Goodell and Smith "spoke Friday night after negotiations broke down, neither strafed the other with the kind of verbiage that would be hard to take back" (SI.com, 3/14).
RETIRED PLAYERS' LEADER FRUSTRATED: NFL Alumni Association Exec Dir George Martin yesterday said retired players are "still treated as if we're second-class citizens or an afterthought" by the players' leadership. Martin said that he has been "trying to arrange a meeting with Smith." He was "invited to the union's meeting in Marco Island, Fla., this week, but wasn't promised a meeting with Smith," and he also "first had to fill out a lengthy and 'insulting' questionnaire detailing his relationship and dealings with the NFL." Martin said that he "believes the NFLPA thinks his association is a 'pawn of the league'" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/15).
No NFL labor negotiations "are expected between the two sides" until the April 6 hearing on the players' request for an injunction to stop a lockout, which is scheduled to take place in front of U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson in Minnesota, according to Tom Rock of NEWSDAY. The players "had hoped the case would land in the court of Judge David Doty, who has ruled in their favor against the NFL in the past," but cases are assigned randomly. Saints QB Drew Brees, one of 10 players named as plaintiffs in the players' class-action lawsuit, contends that "not having the case heard by Doty is not a setback." Brees: "That's something the owners seemed to be concerned about." Rock notes Nelson "isn't inexperienced in presiding over football-related matters." She was the "magistrate in the case Dryer v. NFL, in which retired players accused the NFL of exploiting their identities in films, highlight reels and memorabilia without compensation" (NEWSDAY, 3/15). In N.Y., Gary Myers cites sources as saying that the "best-case scenario for the just-decertified" players' group is for Nelson to "rule within two weeks of the hearing." It is "anticipated the players will get the injunction," and with it, the owners "would have to open up the doors to players and the new season would go by 2010 rules" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/15).
AVOIDING JUDGE DOTY: In DC, Mark Maske notes the injunction taking place before Nelson and not Doty "could be significant because the league previously made an unsuccessful attempt to have Doty's oversight of the sport's labor matters terminated, accusing him of appearing partial to players." Barring a switch, Nelson "would hear not only the players' request for a preliminary injunction, but the antitrust complaint filed by players against NFL owners Friday." Nelson was appointed to the federal bench in St. Paul in December "after 10 years as a magistrate judge in the same courthouse." She was "part of the team of lawyers that won a multi-billion dollar settlement against the tobacco industry for the state of Minnesota in 1998" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/15). But in N.Y., Judy Battista notes Doty's absence "could change, particularly because lawyers for the players could file a motion seeking a transfer to him, contending that the antitrust case against the NFL that also was filed Friday is related to the agreement that Doty has long overseen." Then it "would be up to Nelson to decide if it should be transferred to Doty." But an observer of the Minneapolis court said yesterday that "it was unlikely the case would go to Doty now that Nelson has scheduled it" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/15). In Minneapolis, James Walsh noted some observers believe that "since the players' lead attorney, Barbara Berens, was once a clerk of Doty's, the players have an advantage if the case goes to Doty." Berens declined to comment on the case yesterday, but "several area attorneys noted that it is fairly common for attorneys to argue cases before judges for whom they once worked as clerks -- all without a whiff of favoritism or conflict" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/15).
NO SPECIAL TREATMENT ON DATE: ESPN's Andrew Brandt noted NFL fans may be upset with the April 6 date for the hearing as taking too long, but he said, "You talk to lawyers and judges people around courtrooms, they're like, 'That's pretty expedited getting April 6th.' We all have a different tunnelvision of what the timeline should be. But this is just like any litigants going to court. The fact they're football players named Tom Brady and Drew Brees may mean something to fans but it doesn't mean anything to courts" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 3/14).
TROUBLE BREWING? In Chicago, Rick Morrissey notes one of the "small details in the NFL lockout is that the league doesn’t have disciplinary power over the players while the labor strife continues." What has "gotten players’ attention in recent years has been the very real threat" that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "will suspend them and hurt them where it hurts the most: their wallets." Goodell has suspended several star players, including Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger for off-field conduct, but Morrissey asks, "With that hard line erased for the time being, what happens now?" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/15).
REVERSE! YAHOO SPORTS' Doug Farrar reports there are "political storm clouds brewing for the league that could have a far greater impact" than the two cases in front of Nelson. U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) yesterday said that he "will seek to overturn the NFL's antitrust exemption relating to the league's broadcast deals." Conyers in a statement said, "I will be introducing legislation to repeal the broadcast television antitrust exemption with regard to professional football" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/15).
The recently decertified NFL players' group is "putting into place a plan that would prevent each top college prospect from attending next month's draft" in N.Y., according to sources cited by Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. The players' group "already has contacted 17 top prospects who ordinarily would have received an invitation to attend the draft and informed them not to go." Another source indicated that the edict is a "recommendation, not an explicit order not to attend the draft." The source said the players' group plans to give the prospects the "same experience down the street." Schefter reported the group "even has gone so far as to consider placing the players on another competing network to do post-pick interviews, though no final decisions have been made." A source said that "in this day and age, it's possible that the top prospects also could appear on a social media network platform, only." In response to the report, NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said, "We plan to invite the 15-20 top prospects and their families to New York as we normally do for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. And, as always, it is the decision of the players and their families as to whether they attend." While the NFL "has always paid the expenses for the invited players and their immediate family to attend the draft, the league said it would not pay players a fee in an attempt to have them present this year" (ESPN.com, 3/14). One agent who represents a top draft prospect said that "it's possible few, if any, of the top picks will go to the draft." The agent added, "There is momentum building on this. If my client is asked, he won't attend." But CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman wrote, "I find it difficult to believe at least a few of them won't be upset about losing the opportunity to shine on such a big day" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/14).
Peterson says that he wants
to attend NFL Draft in N.Y.
A MISGUIDED PLAN? CBSSPORTS.com's Pete Prisco wrote the players' group is "way off base trying to keep draft-eligible players from attending the NFL Draft in New York." Prisco: "This is the moment I've waited for my entire life -- and I'm not letting some bickering by a trade association impact my day" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/14). ESPN’s Mike Golic said the idea of telling prospects not to attend the draft is “petty.” Golic: “Let them go have their moment. Let the commissioner call their name. … Let them have that. Don't pressure them right now to be a pawn in the game, okay. Soon enough, they're going to be the pawn in the game." He added, “It's an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these guys, and then they become part of the union” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 3/15). ESPN.com's Mike Sando wrote the NFL Draft "will command attention with or without the top college prospects in attendance, but pressuring them to stay away seems like the height of pettiness." Sando: "What a misguided shame it will be if prevailing pettiness between the NFL and its locked-out players robs fans of this moment, too. It could happen" (ESPN.com, 3/14). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "Here's what you say to them: 'Don't go to the team and pose for pictures with the team. Don't go to OTA's, don't do any promotional activities'" ("PTI," ESPN, 3/14). In N.Y., Paul Schwartz writes, "If the boycott comes about, it will make for an embarrassing evening." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "would presumably announce the pick, but there would be no player there to greet him on the stage" (N.Y. POST, 3/15). CBSSPORTS.com's Clark Judge: "It strikes me as a meaningless gesture, and if it's intended to frazzle or frustrate owners it won't" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/14).
LOWERING THE BAR: ESPNLA.com's Managing Editor Eric Neel said, "I thought this thing had already played itself out in all the ways it could and it was going to become a courtroom story. Instead, it's a TV story: 'You've got one big TV show left. Well, we're jamming up your TV show by not sending our kids.' I'm looking now for the volley back from the owners that says, 'That's alright, we're going to strike a deal with this gaming company to have simulated kids walk up on stage.'" Neel added, "The higher the stakes are in this thing ... the lower the bar is for what folks will try in negotiating or in trying to win over public sentiment" ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 3/14).
NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter in a letter to players earlier this month took a "noticeably pessimistic and cautionary tone" about the league's upcoming labor negotiations, according to Ben Golliver of CBSSPORTS.com. The March 3 letter, sent to all NBA players, "includes Hunter's take on the All-Star Weekend bargaining session" with the owners. Hunter wrote in part, "One point has become clear, and the owners did not shy away from this reality at our meeting; their extreme proposal is not just intended to wipe out their alleged losses. Instead, by their own admission, the owners are seeking in this negotiation to guarantee themselves a significant profit each year. As they made clear at the meeting, they would be making the same demands even if they were not claiming to be losing money. If the owners have their way in this negotiation, regardless of how effective a franchise is managed, each other will be able to use a new 'idiot proof' system to ensure that in addition to the appreciating return on his investment, he will reap millions in profits each year, while the players' compensation, job security and freedoms recede." Hunter told players that one sticking point in the CBA talks is the owners' "apparent insistence on instituting a hard salary cap." He added, "They repeated their claims of heavy losses and claimed that our 57% of Basketball Related Income (BRI) is too high. They insist that the current soft cap system is 'broken' and they need a new system that will create 'more competition' and fan interest" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/11). Pistons G Tracy McGrady said, "The proposal that they have out here for us, it's really bull. Some of the owners, Jerry Buss, the big-market owners, they don't want a scale-down." He added, "We're gonna have to give up something to gain a little bit. ... But it can't sway that much into the owners' favor where we're losing out big time" (DETROIT NEWS, 3/14).
WATCH & LEARN: CBSSPORTS.com's Ken Berger cited a source familiar with the NBA's labor situation as saying that the "outcome of the NFLPA's decertification move will provide a 'road map' and a 'blue print' for the NBPA as it weighs its legal options when it comes to preventing a lockout or reacting to one once the NBA owners impose it." Whether the NBPA "follows the NFLPA's lead and decertifies will depend nearly 100 percent on how successful the move is for the NFLPA." If decertification "works for the NFL players, you don't need a law degree to see that the NBPA will run the very same play" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/11). T'Wolves F and player rep Anthony Tolliver confirmed that the NBPA would consider decertification "if talks break down this summer." Tolliver: "It's something that's looming as an option. ... It's been talked about, but we're not sure we're going to do it. We're just keeping our options open." He added, "I want to follow the NFL's situation as much as possible and see how their players handle things. Hopefully, our talks go much smoother" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 3/12).
UFC President Dana White yesterday reiterated that UFC and Strikeforce "will continue to operate as separate organizations at least for the foreseeable future" in the wake of UFC's acquisition of the rival promotion, according to Adam Hill of the LAS VEGAS-REVIEW JOURNAL. White "did concede the likelihood of matching up the talent from the former rival organizations at some point, based on demand." White, UFC Chair & CEO Lorenzo Fertitta and Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker yesterday "tried to push the notion of 'business as usual' for MMA fans, starting with a stacked Strikeforce card scheduled for April 9 in San Diego, with a few slight changes." White and Fertitta also said that they "plan to offer their input into Strikeforce production, which is controlled by Showtime, but in the end, decisions will remain in the hands of the network." Strikeforce's deal with Showtime "expires in 2014." Hill notes the expanded roster of fighters gained under the Strikeforce acquisition "could allow Zuffa, LLC, the parent company of the UFC, to put on more shows, particularly internationally" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 3/15). White and Fertitta yesterday "repeatedly emphasized that most details are not hammered out" for the deal. Fertitta: "We put this thing together in short order and we don't have all the answers yet. We're going to see how it plays out." White said, "Anything's possible and I would never say never to anything. But right now, Strikeforce is going to continue to run their shows on Showtime." ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto reports discussions between Zuffa and its new partner, Showtime, have "yet to take place." The new relationship "could conceivably open the door for the UFC to gain traction on a deal with Showtime or Strikeforce's other network partner, CBS" (ESPN.com, 3/15).
CHANGING LANDSCAPE: YAHOO SPORTS' Dave Meltzer wrote, "Two things were clear after the news conference: One is that where Strikeforce goes from here remains a work in progress; the second was a concerted effort to push the idea the combined company does not create a monopoly in the sport of mixed martial arts." Fertitta said, "There are thousands of other promoters, thousands of other options (for fighters), plenty of competition. There's no barrier to entry. Anyone who wants can go in." White: "All you have to do is raise some cash and jump in the business, try and get a TV deal and have some big balls." But Meltzer wrote the "reality is different, at least at present," as "nearly every major star and potential legitimate championship-level fighter in the sport is now locked up and under contract to Zuffa." Both White and Fertitta "talked of running more shows in markets like Europe, Asia and Australia." Fertitta noted that there is a "demand for more shows than the company is supplying, particularly in the U.K. and Australia." But as a TV and PPV product in North America, there are "questions about whether the company is hitting the saturation point." Meanwhile, under the terms of the deal, Coker "gets a long-term contract to work for Zuffa but no ownership stake" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/14). SI.com's Steve Marrocco wrote the UFC's acquisition of Strikeforce "could provide a peek into the future of the sport's landscape." Marrocco: "For all intents and purposes, Zuffa LLC now has a monopoly -- at least until the next rival comes around and the battle starts once again. But after Saturday's sea change, I have doubts about when the UFC will have another serious competitor, if ever" (SI.com, 3/14).
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday after the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., "detailed the league's new five-point strategy to deal with head injuries," according to Roy MacGregor of the GLOBE & MAIL. The league's concussion protocol "will shift from a player being checked on the bench by the team trainer to that player being removed to 'a quiet place' to be examined by a physician." The NHL BOG this summer "will discuss making clubs 'ultimately' responsible for the acts of their players." The league will "retain a 'safety engineer' mandated to 'soften up' the playing area, specifically hard boards and glass -- a direct response to the devastating check last week" by Bruins D Zdeno Chara on Canadiens LW Max Pacioretty. Meanwhile, NHL VP/Hockey & Business Development Brendan Shanahan "will work with the players' association on improved equipment." The league also will create a new committee composed of Shanahan, NHL Hockey Operations Manager Rob Blake, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk, all former players, who will "study safety issues and the league's 'new rules,' which were instituted in 2005 to speed up the game" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/15). Bettman said that "implementation of the protocol 'may take a few days' to allow team trainers and doctors to become familiar with it." He added that there "will be 'appropriate sanctions' for teams that do not comply." The protocol was developed with the NHLPA (N.Y. TIMES, 3/15). NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "feels the league has begun to move in the right direction with initiatives to improve player safety." Fehr said in a statement, "The NHLPA is pleased that we have reached an agreement with the NHL regarding clarification of the Concussion Evaluation and Management Protocol" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/15).
LEMIEUX LETTER: ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun wrote the NHL's announcement yesterday that it "will ponder fines to teams with repeat offenders should find a supporter" in Penguins co-Owner Mario Lemieux, who "sent a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman last week calling for that kind of action." An NHL source said that the idea "had already been in the works for a long time before Lemieux suggested it in his letter last week, although one has to assume given Lemieux's stature in the game that his thoughts on the matter carried some weight" (ESPN.com, 3/14). Bettman: "There is no magic bullet in dealing with this. I know it is an emotional, intense subject, especially for our fans. We understand it, we get it; but dealing with this issue is not something you can just do whimsically or emotionally, you really have to understand what is going on" (TORONTO STAR, 3/15). Maple Leafs President & GM Brian Burke: "Now we have to see if there are other things we have to change on the ice surface that will make it safer -- without changing the fabric of our game" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/15).
STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION: In Toronto, Damien Cox writes with "concerned sponsors swamping the league's head offices with phone calls," the NHL "desperately needed to get out in front of the issue." Cox added of the five-point program unveiled yesterday, "Some of it was new, some of it was old, some of it may never happen and some of it didn't make a whole lot of sense. But it was action, definable action you could write down on a piece of paper. Bettman needed to be seen as a commissioner in charge, and he succeeded -- at least partially" (TORONTO STAR, 3/15). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote, "You have to credit commissioner Gary Bettman for moving decisively to put the NHL sky back in its place" (ESPN.com, 3/14).
CLEARING THE AIR: The CP reported Canadiens Owner Geoff Molson yesterday met privately with the team and explained "why he issued a public letter last week in which he blasted the league and said safety must become a top subject at the ongoing general managers' meeting." He also tried to "reassure his players Monday that safety improvements were coming to the Bell Centre." Molson "laid out some of his proposals for making the game safer," including replacing the "notoriously rigid glass" at the arena. The Canadiens said that they have been "planning for months to replace that glass," but that the team "can't proceed because it's awaiting league approval" (CP, 3/14). Bell Centre is "one of six NHL arenas ... whose rink is bordered by rigid boards topped with hard, seamless tempered glass" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/15).
Tracy feels $5M would be better
served helping underfunded drivers
VERSUS DONE STREAMING: Bernard indicated that "in an effort to increase television ratings, the live streaming of Izod IndyCar sessions for events held on Versus will not continue" this year. SPEEDTV.com's Marshall Pruett noted while the "exact figures for live streaming viewership in 2009 and 2010 have not been released, Versus/Comcast apparently felt the potential Nielsen Rating gain warranted a change in live streaming permissions." With 12 of IndyCar's 17 races scheduled to air on Versus, Bernard said that his "next step will be to inquire within ABC to learn what options exist, if any, to provide streaming content during the five events held on its network" (SPEEDTV.com, 3/12).