SBD/March 7, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Labor Watch: League Says Doty Ruling Did Not Cause Extension

Pash says Doty decision had no effect on the NFL staying at the negotiating table
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash Friday said that a federal judge’s decision to require the league to put media fees into escrow during a lockout had no effect on the league staying at the negotiating table. The league had wanted to be able to use the fees. Federal Judge David Doty made the decision earlier Tuesday evening when the union was expected to decertify and the league to lock out the players upon the expiration of the CBA, then scheduled to end at the end of the day Thursday. The two sides since have agreed to extend talks until March 11. There have been many suggestions that Doty’s decision pressured the league, not just because of the media fees, but worries a player-led antitrust lawsuit would end up in Doty’s court. He expressed sympathy in his media fees ruling for antitrust complaint against the NFL. One of the central issues in the dispute between the two sides is the role of Doty, whom the league would like to remove from overseeing the CBA. The union wants him to stay. Asked if Doty’s decision had an effect, Goodell, following a brief press conference, turned as he entered the revolving doors of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service building and almost laughed, and replied, “No. We have been at the table.” Pash similarly looked amused following his subsequent press conference when asked about Doty, and replied, “Oh, no.” A source said not to interpret the extension of talks as reason for optimism. While many are presuming the extension means the sides are closing the gap, the source said while there has been some progress, it is not as much of a closure as some would hope. This source, unlike Goodell and Pash, said Doty's ruling earlier in the week did affect the league's stance (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).

DAVID VS. GOLIATH: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch cites league sources as saying that the owners "held off on a lockout and are much more open to a new CBA because of their certainty the dispute will eventually end up in front" of Doty, "whose rulings often favor the players." Considering a possible antitrust lawsuit from the NFLPA "would be heard by Doty and that any damages he might award would be tripled under federal law, it's no wonder the owners' tone has suddenly softened" (N.Y. POST, 3/7). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman wrote, "By now one thing has become clear in the National Football League labor showdown: NFL owners want to do whatever they can to avoid having this fight land in front of an 81-year old judge in Minnesota named David Doty" (WSJ.com, 3/4). NFL player agent Ralph Cindrich: "Judge Doty knows them inside and out and he doesn't have a high opinion at all of NFL management after all these years of dealing with them" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/5). In Boston, Ron Borges noted the owners want Doty "out because they believe he is seldom inclined to agree with their point of view." The union "would argue that’s because Doty follows the law, yet it may have to sacrifice his protection in order to close a deal that avoids the union having to decertify and file another anti-trust suit against a league arming to lock it out." If the CBA expires "or a new one replaces it, the owners would argue Doty is no longer empowered to rule over their actions." The NFLPA "might be reluctant to allow that, but ownership is pushing hard for the change and is rumored to be willing to do what they always do in such a circumstance -- buy their way out of a troubling circumstance" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/5). ESPN.com's Michael Wilbon wrote it seems a "sense of cooperation and even fear now exists in these negotiations," after the players "unquestionably gained a measure of leverage" with Doty's ruling last week (ESPN.com, 3/5).
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