SBD/March 11, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Labor Watch: De Smith Plans Friday Update For Players On Union's Plans

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NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith "promised the players Thursday on Twitter that he will have an update for them" about CBA negotiations on Friday at 2:00pm ET, and "all indications are the union will decertify, setting off a long legal battle with NFL owners, who then are expected to lock out the players," according to Gary Myers of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. A source indicated that it "appears Smith is walking away early from mediation in his decision to decertify." The source added that the union then "could file a temporary restraining order to prevent a lockout for five days and then battle it out in court." The "other possibility would be to file an injunction, which could take a month or more to work itself through the legal process." Myers notes if an "injunction is upheld, the issue is when will the league year start and free agency begin." But if the "injunction is denied, the players would be locked out and there will be no movement." The union's request to get an injunction against a lockout is expected to be heard by District Judge David Doty (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/11). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch notes if the NFLPA decertifies, it "most likely would be granted a quick injunction that would allow football to continue uninterrupted under essentially the rules of the old CBA while the NFL appeals and the sides duke it out in court." The players have been "increasingly emboldened since a favorable ruling" from Doty last week in the NFL media fees case. Sources said that the players "feel much more confident now of beating the owners in court on antitrust grounds, especially if -- as expected -- Doty is the judge presiding over the proceedings" (N.Y. POST, 3/11). Smith last night said, "If we're headed toward a lockout we're going to protect ourselves and do whatever we can to stop the lockout. That option, obviously, includes decertification" ("The John Riggins Show," MASN, 3/10). 

READY FOR A COURT SHOWDOWN? In Philadelphia, Paul Domowitch notes if the NFL and NFLPA cannot agree to a third extension of the CBA, the union "will likely decertify and play its hole card: Doty." Indiana Univ. School of Law Dean Gary Roberts said, "Judge Doty has had -- and I can't think of any way to say it without overstating it -- he has had a remarkable and extraordinary string of always ruling for the union. He has given them whatever they've wanted. Any case that goes to litigation usually has a plausible argument on each side. But I mean it's almost inconceivable that an objective, neutral judge would rule, in every single case -- case after case after case -- for the same side when both sides have plausible arguments" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/11). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell notes beyond decertification, players are "expected to file antitrust lawsuits -- including a case that includes star quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady as plaintiffs -- that challenge a wide range of NFL operations." Franchise player tags, restricted free agency and the draft "all could be targeted in individual antitrust cases." NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash said, "It's no more or less of a threat than it's ever been. We've known for years that the union's strategy is to litigate -- to fake its own death and run to court. If they decide to do that, that's what they'll do, and we'll deal with it" (USA TODAY, 3/11).

FREE TO DO WHAT I WANT: SI.com's Peter King cited sources as saying that there is a "distinct possibility that trades and free agent movement could be allowed long before the two sides reach a new labor deal." It likely would not be allowed "until at least the middle of April, and maybe not 'til May," and would "center on the legal labyrinth the case could go through if the players choose to decertify." A longtime Doty observer noted Thursday that an injunction "could take up to a month to be issued under usual circumstances, and then the decision on whether the appeal would be allowed another week or two." A Friday decertification, then, "could lead to the league restarting business, as forced by the court, by late April, around the time of the April 28-30 NFL Draft (SI.com, 3/10).
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