SBD/March 11, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Decertifies Late Friday

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Pash's comments following mediation session draw rebuke from NFLPA
The NFL Players Association filed papers Friday to decertify, effectively disbanding the union and giving it the chance to sue under antitrust laws if there is a lockout. In a statement, the group said, “The NFLPA will move forward as a professional trade association with the mission of supporting the interests and rights of current and former professional football players.” The move came after the 16th day of federally mediated negotiations in which the union rejected the latest offer from owners, as "significant differences continue to remain," union chief DeMaurice Smith said.

LEAGUE RESPONSE: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell met the media after the news: "We worked hard. We didn't reach an agreement, obviously. As you know, the union walked away from the mediation process today to decertify." More Goodell: "We do believe that mediation is the fairest and fastest way to reach an agreement that works for the players and for the clubs. And we believe that ultimately this is going to be negotiated at the negotiating table. They've chosen to pursue another strategy, and that is their choice.” Giants co-owner John Mara, who had been part of the process for the past two weeks, said the union had a “take it or leave it” stance during talks, and kept the “same position as last September.” Mara: “Essentially during that two-week period the union’s position on the core economic issues has not changed, one iota. Their position has basically been ‘take it or leave it,’ and in effect they’ve been at the same position since last September. … One thing that became painfully apparent to me during this period was that their objective was to go the litigation route. I think that they believe that that gives them the best leverage. I never really got the feeling during the past two weeks that they were serious about negotiating, and it’s unfortunate because that’s not what collective bargaining is all about.”

For the latest updates on this story, see the SBD/SBJ Labor Watch, updated as of 7:20pm ET.

EARLIER TODAY: NFL and NFLPA negotiators were at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service building this morning, with only a few hours remaining on the CBA deadline. The entire NFL labor owners group arrived, minus the Patriots’ Robert Kraft, who remains in Israel. Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen was accompanied by team President Joe Ellis. The other eight members are the Bengals’ Mike Brown, Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, Chargers’ Dean Spanos, Steelers’ Art Rooney, Giants’ John Mara, Packers’ Mark Murphy, Panthers’ Jerry Richardson and Chiefs’ Clark Hunt. Jones said as he entered the building there might be news within an hour or two, but that time period elapsed with no development. NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith stopped before entering the building to say, “We won’t have many comments heading into this morning. But, look, this morning, our thoughts and prayers are with the folks in Japan. There are some things that keep and make sure all things are in perspective. So we’re going to head inside today and try to get some work done, but our thoughts and prayers are for people who are digging out right now and people who are preparing for the worst. We’ll talk to you guys a little bit later."

SNIPING BETWEEN SIDES THRUSDAY: The league and union began aggressively sniping at each other again Thursday night after a relative period of calm overseen by Cohen. With the CBA expiring at the end of the day Friday, and the deadline for the union decertifying at 5:00pm ET, a new deal is all but an impossibility, and an extension unlikely at the moment given the rancor. Smith Thursday night was so upset upon hearing comments from NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash suggesting the union was not committed to negotiating, that Smith unannounced went to the NFL Network cameras in front of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service building where the two sides have been negotiating and gave an interview in a torrential downpour. “We saw Jeff Pash’s comments a few moments ago, and instead of driving home, we made a short detour to come back, because I think it’s important that everyone and all of our fans understand and know the commitment of our players to this process,” he said. Pash had said about an hour earlier in the same spot, “If both sides have an equal commitment to getting this deal done, it will get done. I don’t know if both sides have an equal commitment.” Pash also questioned Smith’s public comments that the league and union were $800M apart on how much of an expense credit the league should get. “I never understood it to be $800 million,” Pash said.

NO ADDITIONAL FINANCIAL INFO AVAILABLE: It appears clear that NFL owners after a 90-minute conference call Thursday had rejected making any more financial information available to the union. The league had proposed allowing a third party auditor to examine cumulative profit numbers from the league, including access to team financials to verify the overall figure. The union wants access itself to audited team financials. Ravens CB and player rep Domonique Foxworth told CNBC that the information offered from the league was “laughable.” He added the numbers “offered us can be extrapolated from the numbers that are printed in Forbes.” That comment was likely to anger the league because Forbes numbers are estimates based only on public information, while the figures that would have been made available to the auditor the teams themselves have not seen, other then their own of course.

DOTY TO RULE OVER DECERTIFICATION: If the union decertifies Friday, it is expected to file notice in the court room of Federal Judge David Doty and then, as a newly constituted trade association, would likely ask for a temporary injunction to prevent the league from locking out the players. The league, upon expiration of the CBA at day's end, could lock out the players, but not before that expiration. If Doty grants the injunction, the league could appeal that decision to the 8th circuit court of appeals. During the appeals process, the league would likely be forced to take the players back and impose work rules. The new trade association would also likely file an antitrust lawsuit against the league. At the same time, the league may ask the NLRB to decide on the charge the league brought that the union was not engaged in serious bargaining. The NLRB, if it agreed with the league, could file what is called a 10J injunction request in a federal court seeking to block the decertification. A union cannot file an antitrust lawsuit, so decertifying is critical to the players' strategy.
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