SBD/March 14, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 3: Owners Officially Lock Out Players; Union Decertifies

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NFL team owners lock out players for first time since '87
NFL team owners "locked out the league’s players Saturday, shutting down professional football for the first time in 24 years," according to a front-page piece by Maske & Shipley of the WASHINGTON POST. The owners "acted after labor talks with the players’ union collapsed Friday afternoon" and players decertified the NFLPA, moving the "bitter dispute into the courts and ending an era of NFL labor peace that had lasted since players went on strike in 1987." Decertifying the NFLPA "enabled the players to file antitrust litigation against the owners, which they did late Friday," with QBs Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees among the 10 named plaintiffs. Lawyers for the union also "announced that they are seeking an injunction to lift the lockout," a case that is "likely to end up" before Federal Judge David Doty. It is "not clear when a judge will act on the injunction request, but a union official said it probably would not be for three or four weeks." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Friday said the NFLPA "walked away" from mediated CBA negotiations, adding, "They’ve chosen to pursue another strategy, and that is their choice." Goodell did predict that the issues "eventually would be resolved at the bargaining table." Giants President & CEO John Mara was "harsher in tone, criticizing the NFLPA for refusing to alter its position on key issues." Mara: "Their position has quite literally been ‘take it or leave it.'" But DeMaurice Smith, head of the players' group, said the league’s contention that the union was more interested in litigation than negotiation all along “flies in the face of reason, flies in the face of facts and is simply untrue" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/12). In N.Y., Judy Battista noted the two sides "will wait for judges' rulings." If a judge "grants the injunction to lift the lockout, the off-season will look much like it usually does -- there will be free agency and trades and perhaps even off-season workouts" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/12).

WHAT THE PLAYERS TURNED DOWN: NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash on Friday "outlined a number of offers the NFL made that were rejected, including playing a 16-game regular season in 2011 and 2012 and not expanding to an 18-game season without an agreement from the players; limiting full-contact practices in the preseason and regular season; a guarantee of up to $1 million of a player's salary for the contract year after an injury occurs; and an offer to have all players remain in the league's medical plan for life." Pash also said that the league "offered retired players a major increase in benefits." But in response, NFLPA outside counsel Jim Quinn said, "I hate to say this, but he has not told the truth to our players or our fans" (NEWSDAY, 3/12). The NFL said that its proposal to the players also included an "entry level compensation system based on the union's 'rookie cap' proposal, rather than the wage scale proposed by the clubs." Under the plan, "players drafted in rounds 2-7 would be paid the same or more than they are paid today," and "savings from the first round would be reallocated to veteran players and benefits" (L.A. TIMES, 3/12).
 
A LOOK AT THE FINAL MINUTES: YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver reported the players "showed up Friday fully steeled for decertification and the strife that would follow, and when the owners made an offer that was significantly better than the ones they’d made previously, the union was already skeptical." After receiving the offer at 1:00pm ET, the NFLPA "prepared a counter proposal as the deadline approached." In receiving "permission to decertify during votes with individual teams over the past eight months, the union had stated it would do so no later than eight hours before the CBA’s expiration -- meaning it had to initiate the action" by 4:00pm. George Atallah, spokesperson for the players' group, claims that the league "was aware of this, but commissioner Roger Goodell and his fellow negotiators showed up 20 minutes late to a scheduled 3:30 meeting." By then, the players had "secured a one-hour extension via the 32 teams’ player representatives, and Smith didn’t bother presenting the counter-offer." Instead, he said that the union "would forestall its decertification plans and agree to another short-term extension only if the owners agreed to provide 10 years’ worth of audited financial statements -- something they had forcefully resisted throughout the week." Silver noted it was "under that backdrop that Smith went outside and enunciated that stance to reporters, then walked back to the NFLPA’s offices to see if the owners would respond within the next 15 minutes." They did not, and the "union decertified at 5:02 p.m." (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/12).

Cohen feels NFL, NFLPA are too far apart
for his services to be needed at this point
LEAVING THE TABLE TOO SOON?
In Philadelphia, Les Bowen wrote the players "must be very confident of their legal position, because it was clear in the waning hours of the talks that the owners were moving." The NFL's proposal "included some seemingly attractive concessions" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/12). In Chicago, David Haugh wrote under the header, "Union Chief's Ego Gets In Way As He Overplays Players' Hand." If Smith "showed as much interest in making a deal as he seemed to have in making history, perhaps we would be debating who got the best of whom" in the new CBA (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/13). But in Boston, Greg Bedard noted the "one neutral figure, federal mediator George Cohen, pointed his finger at both sides, saying the league and the union were so entrenched that his services weren’t needed at this time." Cohen, who presided over 16 days of mediation, said, "It is the considered judgment of myself ... that no useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time." Bedard notes both sides "tried to make their case that they had tried to negotiate a fair deal and should not be blamed if the new season of America's most popular team sport is delayed or canceled" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/12).

WE CAN WORK IT OUT: Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones on Friday said, "We'll get it done. The answer is we won't miss any football. Certainly, that is our goal. Their move into litigation will ultimately result in going right back into negotiation, in our view" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/12). Goodell in a letter to NFL fans wrote, "While we are disappointed with the union's actions, we remain steadfastly committed to reaching an agreement that serves the best interest of NFL players, clubs and fans, and thank you for your continued support of our League." Goodell also addressed the owners' final offer to players, writing, "It was a deal that offered compromise, and would have ensured the well-being of our players and guaranteed the long-term future for the fans of the great game we all love so much. It was a deal where everyone would prosper" (THE DAILY). Meanwhile, the players shortly after decertifying on Friday altered the NFLPA.org and nflplayers.com websites to read, "Error 404: Football Not Found. Please be patient as we work on resolving this. We are sorry for the inconvenience. www.nfllockout.com" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/12).

Goodell dropping his salary to
$1 during work stoppage
WHERE THE NFL GOES FROM HERE
: Shortly after the NFL officially locked out players on Saturday, Goodell and Pash "each said they were slashing their salaries to $1 during the work stoppage." Goodell makes about $10M annually; Pash makes about $5M (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/13). In addition to Goodell and Pash, "all league personnel" at the N.Y. HQs, NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J., and at NFL Network and NFL.com in Culver City, Calif., will be taking paycuts. For now, "salaries for those league employees will be reduced by 12 percent, an amount equal to two weeks' pay." If a work stoppage "continues into August, salary reductions for management-level employees will range" from 25% for Exec VPs, 20% for Senior VPs, 15% for VPs, 10% for Dirs and 5% for all managers (ESPN.com, 3/12). NFL officials said that owners "have already set aside enough money to cover them in case the 2011 season is canceled." In addition, league officials said that there "isn't an immediate financial threat from the $4 billion in television-rights revenue that may be withheld because of a recent legal ruling." According to the owners' plans, they "only would need that money if the labor strife drags on" to the '12 season (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/14).

LOSE-LOSE SITUATION: The BOSTON GLOBE's Bedard wrote the owners and players "share in the blame equally, no matter what each side says." This is the first time Goodell and Smith have "been at the forefront of these labor negotiations." Bedard: "We won’t know who set the right course for his side until a judge rules on the players’ injunction to stop the lockout, a process that will start this week, but the fact that we’re in a work stoppage shows that both failed on the big stage." Goodell is the "steward of this game," and so he "must tell the public why and in detail" there is a work stoppage for the first time in 24 years. Bedard: "We did not see a leader Friday. We saw a politician ... who tried to stay out of the fray, as if he were trying to win re-election." On the other side, Smith and the players "knew they had Judge David S. Doty waiting as their guardian angel to block a lockout." They had "better be right, or else ownership will have the upper hand and Smith's play will have failed." If that happens, he "might not have a job when the union reconstitutes" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/13). In Philadelphia, Jonathan Tamari wrote of Smith and Goodell, "Lost games would permanently stain each of their legacies, but at the same time, neither can afford to be seen as caving in on his first big deal" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/13).

AN UGLY SITUATION: In N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote, "The owners can't act surprised that we are where we are, since they went into training for this fight almost since the ink was dry on the last CBA five years ago" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/13). CBSSPORTS.com's Clark Judge wrote, "It's never good when two sides aren't talking, and it can be worse when courts become involved. Decisions are appealed, and appeals are appealed and I think you can see where this could be headed -- which is a long, hot summer without a CBA and a regular season that could be threatened" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/11). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck wrote, "This labor dispute is looking more and more like the disastrous Major League Baseball labor war of 1994-1995. Hopefully, both sides will come to their senses before they cook the golden goose and feed it to the lawyers" (Baltimore SUN, 3/12).
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