SBD/March 16, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 5: Players Allege NFL Draft Is Illegal

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Players' lawsuit claims NFL Draft with entering player pool is unlawful

While speculation over the past few days has centered on whether top NFL Draft prospects will attend the NFL Draft in N.Y. next month, players in the antitrust case filed Friday have alleged that the NFL Draft is a violation of antitrust laws and is illegal. It is not expected that the players in the Tom Brady v. NFL case would try to get an injunction preventing this year's draft. There is an April 6 hearing on the players’ motion for an injunction against the NFL lockout, but the NFL Draft is not specifically mentioned in that motion. However, the second legal claim in the class action complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota Friday by the Patriots QB, eight other NFLers and NFL prospect and former Texas A&M LB Von Miller, alleges that the NFL Draft “with Entering Player Pool” is a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The phrase “entering player pool” refers to what would be a rookie pay system for drafted players. The complaint asks for a number of things, including a judgment “declaring the NFL defendants imposing of the anticompetitive draft with an ‘Entering Player Pool’ violates Section 1 of the Sherman Act and enjoining such restriction.” In addition, the complaint notes that a draft being held even without a pay system in place has been previously held to be an antitrust violation: “Indeed, a less restrictive draft system, which did not contain an entering player pool price fixing restraint, was previously held to be an antitrust violation and that finding is binding on the NFL.” Lawyers representing the players, and the NFL players' group that is now operating as a trade association, did not immediately return phone calls or answer e-mails regarding whether the players were seeking an injunction to stop the April 28-30 Draft. "The imposition of the Draft ... is an anti-competitive, horizontal agreement between competing NFL teams, which allocates the right to negotiate with and sign rookie professional football players and fixes their wages," the lawsuit states. "The Draft with Entering Player Pool is per se unlawful." Even though the NFL CBA expired on March 11, it allows for an ‘11 NFL Draft to be held in April. The NFL has maintained it can hold a draft, even though it has imposed a lockout (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).

PEER PRESSURE: SI.com's Peter King noted the players' group is "looking into getting veterans from every team to show up in New York, so that when the college players are drafted, they'll all have a future teammate," not NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, greet them. That comes after reports the former union is planning to hold an event the same night as the Draft at a different location than Radio City Music Hall. An agent who reps several top draft prospects said, "What is the first round of the draft for the NFL? It's a TV show, a show that makes the league a lot of money." King noted fans "probably won't hear the real sentiment from prospective high draftees when and if they stand in solidarity with their future teammates and opponents," but you "can bet that a bunch of them will feel deprived of a moment they've dreamed of for a long time" (SI.com, 3/15). George Atallah, spokesperson for the players' group, yesterday posted on his Twitter feed, "The NFL Draft is special. Players and their families will be in NYC. It just maybe different. We will provide details when we can." He also wrote, "Let me also correct the record: the NFLPA is not asking anyone to 'boycott' anything. NFL Draft in particular" (TWITTER.com, 3/15). In DC, Mark Maske cites sources as saying that there are "no plans for veteran players to picket outside Radio City Music Hall during the draft" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/16). ESPN's Adam Schefter: "It doesn't sound right now as if they know what form it will take other than the fact that it is severely in question whether or not any of these players will be in attendance (at the Draft)" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/15).

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE: One agent who reps several top draft prospects said, "I advise players not to go and do whatever the union says. Any leverage that will help your side and hurts the other, use it." In N.Y., Gary Myers writes the idea of boycotting the draft is "ludicrous, but so was the idea that the billionaire owners and the millionaire players couldn't find a way to split the $9 billion a year in revenue the league produces." Myers: "Walking on that stage is a memorable moment. Why take it away? Because this fight started off ugly and it gets uglier each day" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/16). Giants President & CEO John Mara believes that a "boycott is a bad idea." During an interview on ESPN Radio 1050 N.Y., Mara said yesterday, "These young men, it's a special time in their lives, they only get one opportunity to go up on that stage and be announced as a first-round pick in front of their friends and families and I think it's an unfortunate decision on the union's part" (N.Y. POST, 3/16). In Illinois, Barry Rozner notes draft prospects have "no one in their corner during this fight and have no say in this battle." Yet the NFL players "suddenly want the rookies to be a part of their fight by boycotting the draft and embarrassing Commissioner Roger Goodell on national TV." Rozner: "This is what the NFLPA wants, and any draft pick ignoring the edict risks being ostracized by his new teammates when he gets to camp" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 3/16). In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz wrote, "This attempt to bully draft picks is pathetic on many levels" (STLTODAY.com, 3/15). But columnist Kevin Blackistone said, "You're about to join a union. You're about to be part of a bigger brotherhood. That's what you need to think about. This is just something that's going to happen now. This isn't about the long-time future. So it should behoove you right now not to participate" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 3/15).

ANOTHER PR NIGHTMARE: FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez wrote the draft boycott "has the makings for an even bigger mess than the CBA negotiations." Goodell would "face the brunt of public outrage," and would "assuredly be booed, cursed and embarrassed by derogatory chants when announcing the first-round picks." Marvez: "The NFL shouldn't risk exposing its leader to such abuse" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/15). ESPN's John Clayton noted the NFL is being "very quiet" and not responding to a possible NFL Draft boycott "because I think you can see that the publicity of what was at least said to be a boycott did not go over well" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 3/15).

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