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The NFL and NFLPA Friday agreed to extend talks about a new CBA until the end of the day on March 11. The two sides will break for the weekend before returning to mediation on Monday morning. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took a couple questions after exiting the mediator’s office, saying “We are continuing to work hard, trying to identify the solutions. … I think the fact we are continuing the dialogue is a positive sign” (NFL Network, 3/4). NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash: “We’re going to continue to work. We’re at a stage where the issues have been joined, there’s been a tremendous amount of discussion. It’s time for us really to dig deep and try to find solutions, and try to be creative, and try to compromise in a way that will work for everybody. … If both sides give a little, everybody can gain a lot” (“Outside the Lines,” ESPN, 3/4). Federal mediator George Cohen briefly addressed the media Friday afternoon, noting the gag order he issued was the “best way to encourage parties to fully, frankly and candidly talk to each other.” Cohen: “I’m pleased to say that over the course of … 11 days we have at least achieved that level of dialogue and that level of constructive discussion.” Cohen did not take any questions from the assembled reporters (NFL Network, 3/4).
GOING INTO OVERTIME: Talks between the NFL and NFLPA went into overtime Thursday when the sides agreed to a 24-hour extension of the expiration of the CBA. With lawsuits ready to be filed, the two sides are back at it Friday before federal mediator George Cohen. The extension also applies to the White antitrust settlement that governs the CBA and was also set to expire. With little chance to get a deal done Friday, the one-day extension is expected to lay the groundwork for a longer extension of days if not weeks. If that does not occur, however, then the scenario of a union decertification and player lockout could commence. The union had begun to prepare for a 5:00pm ET press conference Thursday to presumably announce it was decertifying, but that was put off. The mediation, which started shortly after 9:00am and was to end at 1:00pm, stretched to almost 6:00pm (Kaplan). NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash, the league's chief negotiator, said, "We're going to keep at it and keep at it as long as it takes. ... We're continuing to talk. I don't see how that can be negative." USA TODAY's Gary Mihoces notes with both sides "still at odds over how to share about $9.3 billion in annual revenue, the extra day is expected to be devoted to consideration of whether a longer extension is even warranted." Pash said, "We'll see. We're taking it one step at a time" (USA TODAY, 3/4). NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who left Thursday's talks shortly after 7:00pm, said, "We're working as hard as we can" (NEWSDAY, 3/4).
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES: The WASHINGTON POST's Maske Friday morning cited sources as saying that "there was some movement in the bargaining late Wednesday night and Thursday." The sources indicated that it "was not enough to raise hopes of a settlement Friday," but it "was sufficient to prompt the parties to consider extending the talks another seven days." The possibility of an extension "apparently was discussed Wednesday night when Cohen met with a contingent of NFL negotiators" that included Goodell, Pash, NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman, Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy and Giants President & CEO John Mara. NFLPA negotiators "rejoined the talks Thursday morning and discussions of a postponement intensified." Maske notes "hopes around the sport for a settlement likely would increase greatly if a one-week postponement is approved Friday," because that would "signal that the two sides believe a new agreement could be within reach" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/4). In N.Y., Judy Battista reports the sides were "still far apart Thursday night on the major issues that divided them -- most importantly the division of $9 billion in annual revenue." The owners reportedly made the "push for the extension." Thursday's meeting "lasted more than seven hours as the sides haggled over an extension, with the players apparently wanting an assurance that the owners were not merely stalling in an attempt to keep them from decertifying before the deadline." There will not be "face-to-face talks on Friday, but each side will hold separate sessions with the mediator to try to agree on a longer extension." Indications Thursday night were that there is "still much work to be done before even a weeklong extension of the deal could be guaranteed." The 24-hour extension "seemed to generate little good will, and a settlement still seems unlikely without at least one longer extension." But neither side "would have agreed to stop the clock to keep talking if there was not reason to believe something more could be accomplished by talking" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/4).
REASON FOR OPTIMISM? In Boston, Ron Borges notes the NFLPA's decision to "stay at the bargaining table could be a signal that the two sides have finally begun to move off their original hard-line positions on the $1 billion in additional revenue the owners were seeking and the expansion of the schedule to 18 games." Or it "could simply be a stalling tactic on the owners’ side or a ploy by the players to strengthen their argument that they bargained in good faith before decertifying their union" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/4). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch cites sources on both sides as saying that the extension was "just to buy time to negotiate a three- or seven-day extension to the mediated negotiations that wrapped up their 10th day" on Thursday. But the extension is "considered a victory of sorts by the players because it allowed them to put off decertification and indicated a softening in the owners’ previously hard-line negotiating stance" (N.Y. POST, 3/4). In N.Y., Gary Myers writes there is "no chance the extra time will lead" to a new CBA Friday, but the "idea is to find a reason to stop the clock for another week" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/4). NFL Network's Jason La Canfora: "You talk to people who have been in these rooms here in the last few days, they're not on the precipice of a deal. Striking a new CBA in the next 24 hours is not very likely. ... The goal really is to get a seven-day period or so to be able to have time to really work on the CBA issues that are still out there to get nailed down" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 3/3).
Goodell lauded for handling of
Thursday's negotiating session
DON'T GET YOUR HOPES UP: SI.com's Jim Trotter wrote while some view the 24-hour extension as a "potential ray of hope in the mostly dreary negotiations, the reality is that the sides are no closer to an agreement now than when they met Thursday morning for their 10th bargaining session" (SI.com, 3/3). In Ft. Worth, Gil LeBreton writes, "The extension Thursday may have sent positive signals to some. But the lockout still appears to be inevitable" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/4). In Boston, Greg Bedard notes it is "debatable as to whether progress has been made and whether either side blinked in the face of a public outcry if they were to extinguish the most popular sport in the country" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/4). CNBC's Darren Rovell: "Maybe we don't read today as progress. Maybe it's just delaying some of the chess moves" ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 3/3). But in St. Petersburg, John Romano writes, "NFL owners have got to have enough common sense to realize a protracted labor war is not worth the risk. Presumably, that's what Thursday's 24-hour extension of an expiring collective bargaining agreement demonstrated. The owners reached the end of the cliff and realized how frightening the abyss looked" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/4). In San Jose, Tim Kawakami writes, "It's about time the NFL owners started to act as if they actually want a deal, not just a flattening" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 3/4).
NO ONE WANTS TO BE THE BAD GUY: ESPN’s Andrew Brandt said if the owners turn down a longer extension to reach a deal, they “can always be perceived as the bad guy, that the union wanted to extend it and if we don't have football, it's the owners, it's their fault.” Brandt: “On Thursday, it was the union that if they turned down the one-day extension, they'd be the bad guys the next six months. This time, it's ownership. If they turn down the offer to extend another few days, they'd be the bad guys. I'd be very surprised if we don't have another extension coming out of Friday" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/4). In Philadelphia, Rich Hofmann writes under the header, "NFL Owners Get Cold Feet?" Hofmann: "The owners are afraid to push the button. I think it's because they finally thought through their lockout strategy and determined that it very well could be a loser" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/4). CBSSPORTS.com's Clark Judge wrote "both sides blinked" on Thursday, agreeing to the 24-hour extension. The NFLPA "entered Thursday's talks so intent on moving toward decertification that there was talk all day long about a 5 p.m. news conference to announce the move." Simultaneously, the NFL was "ready to pursue a court action if the players made the first move and decertified, thus preventing the league from locking out independent contractors." But in the end, the two sides "found something to agree on" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/3).
NFL players weighed in on the labor negotiations Thursday night after the league and union "agreed to a 24-hour extension" of the CBA, according to Jim Corbett of USA TODAY. Texans OT and player rep Eric Winston said, "I don't think either side would do it just to get an extension. I'm hoping there was a good reason to do it and that other steps going forward warrant it." Saints FB Heath Evans: "The 24-hour extension shows me there must be something in the works. Both sides think there's good reason to keep talking" (USA TODAY, 3/4). 49ers OT Joe Staley said, "The extension is good to see. It's going to be real interesting to see what that means, if they get a longer extension or get a deal done. ... I'm pretty hopeful they'll get something done after this" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/4). Jets G Brandon Moore, one of his team's alternate player reps, said, "It's very encouraging. It was also encouraging when the NFL labor committee showed up a couple of days ago and got involved in the negotiations. Those are steps in the right direction" (ESPNNY.com, 3/3).
NOT SURE WHAT TO THINK: Despite the 24-hour extension, Redskins DE and player rep Vonnie Holliday still does not have "a lot of optimism." Holliday said, "I don't know how optimistic I can get given that we have not received any formal proposal or anything that we can discuss as a board in terms of a new CBA agreement." He wonders whether this extension "is a ruse or a path to an actual proposal." Holliday: "I don't know what we're going to accomplish in the next 24 hours that we couldn't get done in the past two years" (WASHINGTONEXAMINER.com, 3/3). More Holliday: "I really don’t see ... in the next 24 hours a deal actually being done. I know as a board that we have not received any type of proposal or anything we can discuss and take back to the players" (CSNWASHINGTON.com, 3/3). Panthers P Jason Baker, one of his team's alternate player reps, said, "I hesitate to read too much into it, because I don't know if it's a positive or a negative. It's probably best for everybody to step back and take a breath. I'm not jumping to conclusions either way" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 3/4). Jaguars QB David Garrard: "I don't understand extending it 24 hours if you're not close (to an agreement). What are you going to accomplish in 24 hours that you didn't accomplish in two or three months?" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 3/3). Free agent DE Justin Bannan said, "I'm not sure what to think. One minute I think we'll be locked out for a long time. The next another scenario comes up and I think maybe we can get something done" (DENVER POST, 3/4). Bengals K Mike Nugent: "One day you hear it was a real good discussion and the next you hear that they're not even close. It's good to know that they're still talking but it's also tough to know that the league might shut down for awhile" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 3/4).
The players are "fully behind" NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith in CBA negotiations, but it is "apparent that the owners aren't behind commissioner Roger Goodell to the same extent," according to Jason Cole of YAHOO SPORTS. The "best the sides can hope when they reconvene Friday is another extension" to the CBA deadline beyond the 24-hour extension into Friday, but Goodell "didn't have the authority from his constituency to request" a further extension Thursday. An NFLPA source said, "Every time we deal with Roger, he doesn't have the power to say yes or no to anything. He always has to go back and check with his people if something is OK. We're negotiating, but we're not negotiating with somebody who can make the call. It's frustrating." However, Cole reported it is "becoming apparent that Smith is a guy who can make the call," as the union Thursday was "ready to drop a series of hammers." The "most important" of these is a "class-action lawsuit that features the names" of Colts QB Peyton Manning, Saints QB Drew Brees and Patriots QB Tom Brady. The lawsuit is "ready to go as soon as the clock strikes midnight on the CBA," and the fact that Manning, Brees and Brady are "among nine players who will be named plaintiffs in the case can't be understated." Cole wrote Smith in less than two years has "created a powerful following among the players." Cole: "Twenty years ago, the idea of getting the three biggest quarterbacks in the league to back the union was unheard of. Players of that stature didn't want to take the risks associated with taking on the NFL" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/3).
READY TO FILE: The NFLPA plans on filing the antitrust lawsuit against the NFL endorsed by Manning, Brees and Brady if there is no agreement to extend the deadline for the CBA, sources said. If there is no extension, the NFLPA plans to decertify or disband the union. The union can do this by sending a letter to the NFL. After the decertification letter is sent, the NFLPA can file an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. If the NFLPA agrees to extend the CBA deadline, it would only do so if its rights to file an antitrust lawsuit were also extended, sources have previously told SportsBusiness Journal. It is not clear exactly what claims the union would make in the lawsuit, but the plaintiffs are expected to include Manning, Brees and Brady, as well as a lot of other NFL players that "people would not expect," one source said. Attempts to reach Tom Condon, who represents Manning and Brees, Brady’s agent Don Yee and NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir for External Affairs George Atallah were unsuccessful (Liz Mullen, SportsBusiness Journal).
President Obama during a press briefing Thursday was asked whether he would consider intervening in the ongoing NFL labor dispute. Obama said, "You've got owners, most of who are worth close to a billion dollars, you got players who are making millions of dollars. My working assumption at a time when people are having to cut back, compromise and worry about making the mortgage and paying for their kid's college education is that the two parties should be able to work it out without the president of the United States intervening." Obama noted he is a "big football fan," but said, "For an industry that's making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way and be true to their fans who are the ones who, obviously, allow for all the money that they're making." Obama: "My expectation and hope is that they will resolve it without me intervening, because it turns out I've got a lot of other stuff to do" ("Power Lunch," CNBC, 3/3). Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) Thursday "urged owners to provide players with financial information for the second time in two weeks." Rockefeller said in a statement, "A lockout is completely unnecessary. It has the potential to harm not just the players, the league and the fans, but all the Americans whose livelihoods depend on a football season" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/4).
MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner Thursday said that league and players' union officials "met in Florida on Wednesday for their first formal session to discuss" a new CBA, according to Barry Bloom of MLB.com. Weiner characterized the initial session as "productive." The owners are "seeking to expand the playoffs by adding two Wild Card teams -- which would require an additional round of playoffs -- as well as adding a slotting-pay system to a possibly expanded worldwide amateur draft and tweaks in revenue sharing." The union is "trying to figure out how to viably compress the schedule to include another round of playoffs" (MLB.com, 3/3). When asked to characterize Wednesday's talks, Weiner said, "It was a productive session. We had a very strong showing of players there. We had a good dialogue. It was introductory. We had a good dialogue with the owners' representatives and good contributions from the players themselves." Weiner added that the two sides "could meet later this month when the union spring training tour moves to Arizona" (Baltimore SUN, 3/4). Weiner "wouldn't characterize the tenor of the talks." Weiner: "I don't want to say: optimistic, pessimistic, but I'm looking forward to the bargaining" (AP, 3/3).
SI's Gary Van Sickle recently conducted a roundtable discussion with five members of the PGA Tour, hitting on some of the hot topics that face the Tour. Van Sickle noted the Tour has signed several new sponsors "in a tough economy," prompting the question of whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic about the Tour's future. Steve Flesch said in the "grand scheme of things commissioner Tim Finchem has done well to maintain 95 sponsors -- 45 on the PGA Tour and 25 or so each on the Champions and Nationwide tours. That's pretty darn good." Davis Love III said, "If you looked at the PGA Tour without looking at the economy, you'd say we're struggling a bit. Based on the economy, you'd say we're kicking butt." Love noted several automakers and financial institutions that previously sponsored tournaments left due to the economy and said, "To fill in all those blanks and not go backward is a miracle." J.J. Henry noted he is optimistic, saying, "It says a lot about our product and the character of our players that we're fully sponsored in a down period and have kept purses up." Meanwhile, the Tour's television contracts expire after the '12 season, and Ted Purdy said, "I'm grateful that Finchem is doing the next TV negotiation because he's been there. I don't think we want a new guy in there at this juncture."
COMMISH FOR A DAY: Van Sickle asked the panel what they would change if they could be commissioner of the PGA Tour for one day. Golfer Ben Crane said, "Not a thing. Just keep doing what we're doing." Henry noted the Super Bowl "moves around every year" and wondered whether the FedExCup playoffs could follow suit. Henry: "Why couldn't, say, Hartford and the BMW Championship switch spots on the calendar for a year? ... Let everyone have a chance to host a playoff event, not just the same cities every year." Love said he would "make the Nationwide tour bigger, make it the way to get to the regular Tour instead of qualifying school." Purdy would "increase the fields at all the big-dollar events." Purdy: "Why limit the fields at the World Golf Championships to 60 or 70 players?" Flesch agreed with Purdy, adding the fields for WGC events "should be bigger -- at least 120 players." He added, "And I'd add a cut so they're not freebies anymore" (SI GOLF+, 3/7 issue).
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said he has had "15 inquiries and some agents from some pretty big drivers ... wanting information" about the $5M bonus that will be given to a non-IndyCar driver who wins the season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, according to Bruce Martin of SI.com. Bernard said, "It's been well-versed -- a little bit of everything. A couple of drag racers have said they would want to try it. It's our job to make IndyCar top of mind. I want to make sure our strategy is very well designed." He added he is "trying to bring the credibility of our sport -- just as hard as it is for Juan Montoya and Sam Hornish and others to go to NASCAR it's just as hard for NASCAR drivers to come over to our sport." However, the "only NASCAR driver so far who expressed interest" is former Champ Car Series driver A.J. Allmendinger. Several NASCAR drivers last week indicated they "found the challenge intriguing," but they said that "logistics would be a major issue." Martin wrote awarding a non-IndyCar driver the "largest race winning check in motorsports history" would "certainly overshadow the IndyCar season champion." But Bernard "doesn't see it that way." Bernard: "What is worse is last year. We were the best-kept secret in sports last year when no one saw such a phenomenal race and Dario Franchitti win the championship. Would I rather have a way to drive our ratings up? Our storyline will not change on our network show. It will have an emphasis on the World Championship but it will focus on our drivers battling for the Izod IndyCar Series crown" (SI.com, 3/3).
PLENTY OF VACANCIES: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin notes "at least five" IndyCar teams are "looking to fill seats, and the list of high-quality drivers scrambling to be in them makes this an unprecedented preparation period in the series' history." As of Thursday, "former open-wheel series champions Paul Tracy, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon and Sebastian Bourdais still were without deals." Also available are Bertrand Baguette, Raphael Matos, Tomas Scheckter and Davey Hamilton, "who seeks a part-time ride." Kanaan, "who has Brazilian sponsorship for a partial program, has talked to several teams, including Dale Coyne Racing and KV Racing Technology." Cavin notes the "problem for many is a lack of funding." However, one driver "secured Thursday was Ana Beatriz," who will "drive the No. 24 car of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/4).
In Chicago, Joe Cowley wrote the “Super Teams" in the NBA "are here to stay, and it could be the best thing to happen ... since two guys named Magic and Bird resurrected the league.” Bulls F Kyle Korver said, “It creates a lot of excitement for the NBA. A lot of people want to watch certain games. From a financial standpoint, maybe it hurts some of the other teams, but I don’t know. Going into this year, you look at the height of the NBA, and it’s probably at an all-time high. A lot of that was because of what happened in Miami, so in some ways I would say it’s good because it generates a lot of hype’’ (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/2). But in Utah, Doug Robinson writes an open letter to NBA players under the header, “Star-Studded NBA Teams Could Ruin Smaller-Market Franchises.” Robinson: “You're killing the golden goose. It might seem like a good idea now to have superstars building their own teams, but in the long run it's bad for the future of the league and the next generations of players" (DESERET NEWS, 3/4).
EVERYTHING IS BIGGER IN TEXAS: In San Antonio, Terrence Thomas reports the WNBA announced Thursday that “this year’s All-Star Game will be on July 23 at the AT&T Center.” Bringing the event to the city was an “eight-month endeavor” for Spurs Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the WNBA Silver Stars. SSE “contacted the WNBA about hosting" the event last July, and “after providing a business plan and going through a bid process, the city was chosen to host the contest.” It is believed that “at least two other WNBA cities made bids for the game.” Silver Stars Dir of Business Operations Russell Warren said, “It’s the premier event for the WNBA, and we feel like we’ve got the best place to showcase that” (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 3/4).
WINNING THE MAJORITY VOTE: SI GOLF+ surveyed more than 200 pros from the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours about a variety of subjects pertaining to the game of golf. Fifty-five percent of the LPGA members surveyed rated Mike Whan’s first year as LPGA Commissioner “excellent,” with 35% rating his performance “good" and 7% rating it “OK.” Meanwhile, 20% of the PGA Tour members that participated said that Joe Ogilvie should be the next PGA Tour Commissioner. Peter Jacobsen earned 17% of the vote with 4% of the votes for MLB Rangers COO and former PGA Tour Exec VP & COO Rick George (SI GOLF+, 3/7 issue).