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U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson yesterday told NFL players and the league that she "will need 'a couple of weeks' before she can rule on the players' request to lift the lockout imposed by owners, and urged them to resume negotiations in the meantime," according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. Nelson: "It seems to me both sides are at risk and this is a very good time for you to come back to the table." Talks between the two sides "have been on hold since negotiations collapsed March 11, the day before the lockout began," and it "appears unlikely the league and players will meet again soon because they cannot agree to the terms by which the talks would resume." Yesterday's hearing began just after 10:30am ET and "lasted into the late afternoon." NFL outside counsel David Boies "spoke for nearly three hours in all and was questioned vigorously at times by Nelson on a variety of legal points made by the league." NFLPA outside counsel James Quinn "presented the players' arguments during the hearing," and Nelson "scrutinized his arguments less closely." Nelson "seemed to indicate during the hearing that she thought the players' decertification of the union was valid." She said to Boies, "They can do it, right? They can do it." She also "suggested she had the discretion to decide whether to wait" for the National Labor Relations Board to rule on decertification or "move forward herself." Maske notes Nelson's decision on the lockout is "likely to be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit by the losing side" (WASHINGTON POST, 4/7). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell reports Nelson is "considering holding an evidentiary hearing, perhaps next week, before ruling." Quinn and Michael Hausfeld, who argued on behalf of retired players, "don't think another hearing is needed." Boies said that he "would welcome such a procedure" (USA TODAY, 4/7). USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale writes the two sides "appeared leery of a quick settlement." They "couldn't even agree on an interpretation of Nelson's suggestion, unsure of whether she was encouraging them to undergo federal mediation or resume negotiations" on a CBA (USA TODAY, 4/7).
LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Nelson offered to aid and "facilitate suggestions" for resolution, a message to get it done before she weighed in with her injunction decision. Her suggestion to use the auspices of her court seemed to be a mini-victory for the players. Returning to St. Paul soon to use Nelson's chambers as a venue for resolving the matter seemed to the players, on the face of it, like a good idea. "It's something we'll consider," Quinn told reporters outside the courthouse afterward. "We heard what the judge said, and she said it forcefully." But for the owners, putting their future in the hands of Nelson was not so appealing. "We believe these kind of matters ought to be settled at the collective bargaining table, not in federal court," said Boies, who gently sparred with Nelson through three separate sessions in which she allowed him great latitude to attempt to convince her that the league's lockout was legal. Meanwhile, NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello last night in N.Y. said, "We have said since March 11 that we were prepared to return to mediation immediately." But when pressed about using Nelson's court instead, Aiello said in an e-mail, "We're not going to elaborate tonight" (Jay Weiner, THE DAILY).
TIME TO TALK? In N.Y., Judy Battista reports the players last night "were considering sending a letter to the league, offering to meet to conduct litigation settlement talks with a mediator." But "further talks before Nelson makes a decision seem unlikely." The NFL "wants only to engage in collective bargaining with the help of the federal mediator" in DC. The league "believes the decertification of the union is illegitimate and does not want to negotiate a litigation settlement that would leave it with another agreement overseen by the federal courts." The players "insist they will not go back to being a union, but say they are ready to engage in talks to reach a litigation settlement under the Minnesota court's purview" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/7). NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler after the hearing said that he "will participate in mediation talks only as settlement discussions to the players' antitrust lawsuit against the league" (L.A. TIMES, 4/7).
JUDGE IN CONTROL: In Boston, Greg Bedard notes NFL attorneys yesterday "maintained that the decertification was merely a tactic by the players and that it shouldn't be valid," but Nelson "didn't seem to buy that" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/7). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch reports Nelson "seemed to mock Boies for trying to use a Depression-era labor statute called the Norris-La Guardia Act -- originally designed to protect workers from employers -- against the players." Nelson: "Isn't there some bit of irony that the Norris-La Guardia Act, which is designed to protect employees from strike-bearing federal judges, should now be used to prevent an injunction of a wealthy, multi-employer unit seeking to break players?" (N.Y. POST, 4/7). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote if there was "one winner in the latest round of cat-fighting between the NFL and its players" it was Nelson, "who came into these proceedings as something of a rookie in the grand scheme and left with the respect of almost everyone involved." Nelson "showed a deep grasp of the issues and history that have defined the past 30 years of NFL labor decisions" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/6).
OWNERS INFLUENCED BY NELSON? CBSSPORTS.com’s Mike Freeman cites sources as saying that the NFL and the players “could actually begin negotiating again as early as this week.” The sources said that some owners “are slightly fidgety about what happened” at yesterday’s hearing, as Nelson “seemed to query the lawyer for the owners more extensively than the legal representation for the players.” However, Freeman cites other league sources that are “strongly denying this.” Those sources “insisted owners would never meet with players until the now decertified union reconstituted itself” (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/7).
Jackson (l) and Miller were among the five
plaintiffs present at yesterday's hearing
MISSING IN ACTION: FOXSPORTS.com's Alex Marvez writes Patriots QB Tom Brady and Colts QB Peyton Manning, who are among the plaintiffs on the lawsuit, did not have "valid reasons for skipping Wednesday's preliminary hearing." The players' absences "raises questions about why they agreed to participate in the first place." If Brady and Manning "weren't going to champion the NFLPA's cause as loudly as they bark signals, the now-decertified union should have courted other stars" for the lawsuit. Quinn was asked why only five of the 10 named plaintiffs were in St. Paul yesterday, and he replied, "I guess some of them had other things they had to do and be in different places." Marvez writes, "Not to say that having Brady and Manning in attendance would have swayed Nelson into immediately ordering the lockout lifted. But it definitely wouldn't have hurt" (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/7).
PUBLIC OPINION: In exclusive studies conducted for SportsBusiness Daily/Journal, data showed that NFL fans under the age of 30 are more likely than fans 31+ to blame team owners for the league's current labor dispute. Poll data also showed that most NFL fans felt the CBA dispute would be resolved and there would be no impact on the '11 NFL season (THE DAILY).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league is insisting on HGH testing in a new CBA, but Ravens WR Derrick Mason said Goodell "needs to stop crying about a blood test and HGH" and needs to "get a deal done" for a new CBA. Mason said Tuesday during his weekly appearance on WJZ-AM's "The Norris & Davis Show," said of Goodell, "He's been on this crusade about HGH but he needs to be on a crusade about getting these owners together and trying to work out a deal. To me, he's a joke because every time I look he's talking about performance-enhancements instead of talking about trying to figure out a way to make sure football is played." Mason added Goodell is talking about PEDs and testing "because it's great to say." Mason acknowledged people "want to do whatever you have to do to make sure there's not a competitive edge in the sport," but he added the NFL has been "crying about a blood test for a long time" ("The Norris & Davis Show," WJZ-AM, 4/5). NFL VP/Law & Labor Policy Adolpho Birch appearance on the show yesterday to respond to Mason's comments, and Birch said, "I'm not sure he really feels that way. I think probably what he is doing is expressing the frustration that a lot of us have that we haven't been able to resolve our difference in bargaining. ... There is no question that HGH testing and the integrity of our game is as critically important as anything else we are talking about during the course of these discussions" ("The Norris & Davis Show," WJZ-AM, 4/6).
CROMARTIE FOR HGH TESTING: Free agent CB Antonio Cromartie yesterday on his Twitter account sided with Goodell "and other members of league management who want" HGH testing. He wrote, "Jus was reading an article about HGH testing in the NFL. I'm for it I'm not against it. If u against that mean you hiding something." PRO FOOTBALL WEEKLY wrote Cromartie's comments "may not be popular with some of his fellow players, but Cromartie deserves praise for speaking out in this forum" (PROFOOTBALLWEEKLY.com, 4/6).
The National Basketball Referee’s Association “has filed charges to the National Labor Relations Board contending that the NBA has violated federal laws by engaging in unfair labor practices,” according to Adrian Wojnarowski of YAHOO SPORTS. The charges “were outlined in a series of several memos distributed to the NBA’s 60 referees and details what the NBRA describes as ‘the league’s refusal to negotiate with the union concerning non-economic issues.’” The league’s CBA with its referees expires Sept. 1. The NBRA has “hired an experienced labor and employment attorney, Lee Seham, to take over the talks with the NBA.” The union has met “three times with the NBA -- including most recently on March 31 -- and says the NBA hasn’t responded to any of its proposals.” Sources said that the memo and filing to the NLRB also “includes details of an alleged ‘obscene expression’ by commissioner David Stern directed at union negotiators in a Jan. 24 meeting.” The NBRA in the memo claims that the NBA “has told it and the NLRB that it doesn’t want to negotiate deal points on an article-by-article basis, and prefers to be given a complete proposal.” In the memo, union officials “told referees they have requested the NBA give them a proposal for a new deal, but said the league has yet to present its own or a counterproposal.” Wojnarowski noted the NBA and its referees “barely avoided replacement officials to start the 2009-10 season by agreeing to a deal in October 2009,” the month the season started (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/6).
EYES ON THE PRIZE: In N.Y., Mitch Lawrence wrote with the CBA between the NBA and players union expiring June 30, the “grim reality is that once the NBA completes its marathon playoff run in June, the lockout will be front and center.” NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter said, "I think the owners are waiting to see what happens with the NFL case, just as we are. We've talked about decertifying, like the NFL players have. We might want to go that route, too, but let's see what happens in Minneapolis first" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 4/6).
Penske Racing Owner Roger Penske sat for a “rare all-things considered” interview prior to the March 27 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and spoke about “everything from NASCAR’s crowds to the economy to the future of IndyCar,” according to Holly Cain of FOXSPORTS.com. Penske remains “optimistic about NASCAR’s ability to overcome its current attendance slump.” He said, "We just have to realize in today’s economic environment people just can’t spend the money they were spending. When you look at the demographics with NASCAR, you’ve got a 160,000-seat stadium and you have 120,000 (in the stands), it looks like you’re in trouble. But we had the Super Bowl in Detroit in 2006 and we had 72,000 seats and everyone said it was success.” Penske said of smaller sponsorships versus full-season deals, “One of the things that’s tough is the fan identity of the red-and-white (IndyCar) car, or the blue (NASCAR) car with number 2 on it. They’re losing a little of that driver-car-team identity because every day it’s a different cover on the book. We’re gonna have to figure out a way to better connect the fan with the car." Meanwhile, Penske said of NASCAR possibly holding a Sprint Cup race in Montreal, “There’s so many Cup races today, I’m not sure we need another one anywhere. At the moment, we need to give to the promoters who have committed their time and money to build the tracks we have here." IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard has offered a $5M bonus for non-IndyCar drivers who win the season finale in Las Vegas. Penske is “in favor of the series trying new concepts to attract fans,” but he “wouldn’t go so far as to commit to this particular idea.” Penske: “The issue is with a team that’s competing to win the championship. I’d much rather win the championship than the $5 million. … I think there are other things we could do along the way to create more buzz. Some people may want to do it, and that’s fine. We have not committed to fielding another car” (FOXSPORTS.com, 4/5).
WPS is “at a critical juncture” as it begins its third season this weekend, and the league “has to make some considerable strides in 2011,” according to Frank Giase of the Newark STAR-LEDGER. The league's third year “has always been looked upon as a benchmark because the Women’s United Soccer Association, the first attempt at a professional league, folded in 2003 after three seasons.” The timing of the league’s inception in ‘09 "coincided with the downturn in the nation’s economy," and WPS “has struggled for attendance and sponsorships, both local and national, ever since.” This offseason, the league office was “streamlined to save money.” Anne-Marie Eileraas was named as CEO, and she will "run WPS as a business rather than spend time being a spokeswoman for a sports league.” Another “vital move is that for the first time, money from national sponsors will trickle down to the clubs.” But the changes “will mean nothing if attendance doesn’t rise significantly this year.” The league averaged 3,600 in attendance last year, down from approximately 4,600 in ’09. Initial projections prior to the first season “were between 5,000 and 6,000 per game, numbers that have to be legitimately reached this year without papering the house.” The “other constant has to be the stability of teams.” In a “mere two years, five teams have folded, including the Los Angeles Sol and FC Gold Pride, the regular-season champions, respectively, the past two years.” Giase wrote WPS “needs to get its act together, but if fans want to ensure a Year 4, they have to show it in their attendance and support this season” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 4/5).