SBD/March 2, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Labor Watch: Both Sides Face Critical Decisions In Coming Hours

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NFLPA will operate as a trade association if it elects to decertify
NFL owners and the NFLPA are "prepared to escalate" their dispute as a new CBA does not appear to be "within reach, at least not soon," according to sources cited by Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. The sources indicated that the players "could decertify their union Thursday, hours before the expiration of the current labor deal, in anticipation of filing antitrust litigation against the owners." Sources noted that the owners are scheduled to meet today and tomorrow in Chantilly, Va., and "could make a final decision then about locking out players as soon as Friday" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/2). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch reports those involved with the labor negotiations believe that an "extension of the negotiations beyond tomorrow's deadline is the most likely short-term outcome" (N.Y. POST, 3/2). In L.A., Sam Farmer notes a "crescendo is building between two dug-in adversaries who emerged from mediation with no deal in hand" (L.A. TIMES, 3/2).

WHAT'S AT STAKE? In N.Y., Judy Battista in a front-page piece reports NFLPA leaders have said that they "would decertify simply as a way to get players back on the field, and to prevent a work stoppage that threatens the 2011 regular season." If the union does elect to decertify, "owners will face a decision." They could "impose their own rules that would allow the games to continue, a decision likely to expose the league to a series of antitrust lawsuits brought by players that would attack the underpinnings of the current game: the salary cap, the franchise tag that restricts movement of some free agents, and even the validity of some player contracts." The goal would "be less to alter the shape of the game than to create pressure on owners to make a deal by arguing that the rules unreasonably restricted players’ earning power." If the players won, the owners "would be subject to triple damages -- a potentially devastating loss of billions of dollars." If the union decertifies, it would operate as a trade association, and with a "player as a plaintiff, it would immediately file for an injunction from a federal judge seeking to stop a lockout." But Battista notes litigation "could take years and cost substantial amounts of money as it works through the courts." During that time, if there "was no union, there would be no way for players to negotiate on any other issue -- pension, health care, even grievances" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/2).

TWO-DAY WARNING: SI.com's Don Banks noted "no one knows exactly what we're counting down to this week." Banks: "Will it be an NFL-orchestrated lockout that kicks off at that long-awaited hour, effectively beginning the first real labor crisis that the league has faced since the 1987 season? Or will the NFL Players Association move to decertify itself as a union, perhaps blocking the league's owners from shutting down the game? Or will the two sides make enough progress in this week's negotiations to merit stopping the clock, with a temporary extension of the CBA in order to continue working to toward a new deal?" While Judge David Doty's ruling yesterday in the closely watched NFL media fees case is a "victory for the players and gives them more leverage in their showdown with owners, there is some debate whether it will have as much as an impact on leveling the playing field in the negotiations as the union hopes." The ruling is a "blow to the NFL," but it is "not seen as a potential kill shot that immediately changes the dynamics of the ongoing CBA negotiations." League sources "painted the Doty ruling as somewhat expected, and said it would potentially hurt the NFL's bargaining position if Doty locks up the TV money in an escrow account and awards a significant amount of damages to the players." But Banks noted "those key details are not yet known until the hearing before Doty" (SI.com, 3/1).
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