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The NFL is scheduled today to return to the bargaining table in a Minnesota federal courtroom with active and retired players present, but the prospects for those negotiations are fully uncertain. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to make a decision, after two weeks’ time, on whether to lift the lockout or keep it in place, an unexpected delay that many believe could keep the sides apart and make the two scheduled days of mediation, the first since mid-April, unproductive. One source who will be in the talks today said the 8th Circuit uncertainty could essentially scare the two sides into making progress. Others were less sure. The NFL is convinced the players will not compromise until suffering a setback with the 8th Circuit, said SportsCorp President Marc Ganis, whose company has close ties to the NFL and its teams. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to be present for the mediation sessions, along with Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash; outside counsel Bob Batterman; and team owners Jerry Richardson, Art Rooney II, Mike Brown and John Mara. NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith is expected to attend for the players, along with class counsel Jim Quinn and Jeffrey Kessler. Quinn said last Thursday he did not know which of the 10 player plaintiffs would be in attendance. If the NFL is forced by the 8th Circuit to lift the lockout, the league has been analyzing, among many options, shutting down the entire sport in response. While the courts might rule that the league cannot lock out a non-union workforce, the league could up the stakes by essentially locking everyone out, business-side too. Sources who have talked to the NFL about the plans certainly do not describe them as definite but acknowledge that the idea of a complete shutdown has been considered. Many outside the league see this as simply a threat, but the league's strategy all along has been if the players don’t bend early to get the work stoppage into the regular season so game checks are missed (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).
SHOULD FANS EXPECT MUCH? With the sides returning to mediation, labor attorney John Hancock Jr. said, "I think you'll see some serious negotiations. The time to try to negotiate is when both sides still have a chance before either side gets some major leverage." On Long Island, Bob Glauber noted that leverage "could come in the next few weeks because the NFL's appeal of an injunction to lift the lockout will be heard" by the 8th Circuit Court on June 3. If the league "wins the appeal, the lockout is likely to continue for several more weeks or perhaps months," but if the players win, the NFL "will resume operations, likely by July." Smith on Friday said, "Right now, (the players) don't want to lay down and be forced to take a deal. They don't believe that it's fair. I can tell you that they resent being lied to. They resent being tricked. They resent the fact that the league has been found now twice to have violated the law" (NEWSDAY, 5/15). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman noted "no one among the ownership or players thinks it will produce anything other than billable hours and frequent-traveler miles." Freeman: "Neither side believes in it. Neither side wants to do it. ... Mediation in July or August might work. Mediation now won't" (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/15). Meanwhile, Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy on Saturday said that he "doesn’t expect the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on the stay of the NFL lockout before the June 3 full appeals hearing on the legality of the lockout." Murphy: "It looks like the stay, no pun intended, will stay in place until June 3. We’ll see. The mediation, we’re hopeful that we can move things along, but we’ll see with that. I think, particularly the players, are pursuing litigation strategy" (GREENBAYPRESSGAZETTE.com, 5/14).
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: In Boston, Karen Guregian reports Patriots Owner Robert Kraft "threw down the gauntlet for the owners and players currently locked in a labor dispute." Kraft said the league and players need to "stop suing one another and get down to business." He added, "The problem can be solved. I really believe that. We’re blessed to have one of the greatest sports businesses in the world right here in America. And one of my concerns is that we not aggravate our fans base, because they don’t really understand, and they don’t want to understand whether it’s the owners, (or) the players (at fault). They just want to have football." Kraft indicated that he would not attend the mediation "unless called in" by Goodell. Guregian notes Kraft again "preached about taking the lawyers out of the equation and how a deal wouldn’t be struck until that happened." He said, "If we can sit down as principals, I believe we can do a deal very quickly. I really believe that. No one wins when you have litigation, even the side that comes out victorious. It’s injurious to the business. So I’d like to get it out of the courts, and get it to the business table, and get it rolling." Patriots S Patrick Chung said, "It sucks, but we have to do what we have to do. Mr. Kraft and the organization is doing what they have to do, and we’re doing what we have to do. We’ll be ready" (BOSTON HERALD, 5/16). More Kraft: "People with a vested interest in the game and growing the game should be the people dealing with how to solve the problem of our current dispute" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/16).
Wilson was one of the few dissenting voices
when owners pushed through CBA in '06
CALLING AN AUDIBLE: In N.Y., Judy Battista noted when the 8th Circuit Court gave the NFL a "temporary stay of the injunction during the second round of the draft, the league told teams to close their doors immediately, a move that perplexed some agents and team executives who wondered why it did not allow a limited free-agency period for undrafted players to be signed before shutting down." That move "might have had its desired effect, though." Some agents have "started grumbling that the interests of lower-tier players are not being well-represented by the lawyers and leaders of the now-decertified union, who are spearheading an antitrust lawsuit against the league" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/15).
RETIRED PLAYERS MEET: A group of retired NFL players met in Minnesota yesterday to support the class action lawsuit filed against the NFL by Carl Eller and three other retirees. Eller’s case is folded into the case brought by active players against the NFL. The retiree meeting and statement was orchestrated by Eller’s lawyer, Michael Hausfeld. Signees to the statement include Nolan Harrison, Senior Director of Former Player Affairs at NFLPA; Jeff Nixon, a frequent retiree critic of the NFLPA; Tony Davis, a chapter head of the NFL Alumni, which is backed by the NFL financially; and Dave Pear, who has railed against the NFL and NFLPA for their disability policies. A statement put out by Hausfeld also said that Mike Ditka also supports the group. Hausfeld said the statement would be followed up by a campaign to bring the plight of the retirees’ attention. He described the statement as representing the largest collection of retirees groups ever. The retiree community has often been split among different groups with varying agendas (Kaplan).
There has been a "mixed review of the potential value" of the NFL players-only practices that have been held this month, according to sources cited by Don Banks of SI.com. In theory, players “working on their offseason conditioning together while keeping their skills sharp and their sense of team camaraderie alive and well sounds like a win-win situation.” But the impact of players-only workouts “may be limited and rather selective.” Several players “declined to discuss their team's players-only workouts, not wanting to add any more debate to the issue of the lockout or the league's ongoing labor fight.” Saints QB Drew Brees has led his teammates in workouts at Tulane Univ., and the Saints have “set the standard for organization amid the confusion of recent weeks.” The team's workouts “routinely have been well-attended.” But whether that “translates into any real advantage once football resumes remains to be seen.” Saints LB Jonathan Vilma, who has been attending the practices, said that he “saw no downside to the sessions.” Banks noted the “risk of injury that could come out of these unsupervised workouts looms large in the mind of an NFL general manager,” as well as “two veteran players agents who echoed his concerns.” The GM said, "Quite honestly, I'm waiting for the first ACL tear that happens and then we'll see if anyone talks about how great this whole workout program is for these young guys” (SI.com, 5/13).
READY TO GET TO WORK: Titans draftee Jake Locker said that he has “already been in the playbook he received” from the team and has been “working out and throwing to receivers on a regular basis.” In Nashville, Jim Wyatt noted Locker in the near future “plans to return” to the city to “work out with his new teammates, whether the lockout is lifted by then or not” (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 5/15). In Philadelphia, Jeff McLane noted Eagles RB LeSean McCoy, like “some of his teammates, has passed the time during the NFL lockout by training in other locales.” McCoy “spent much of the offseason in Miami,” but said that he would join QB Michael Vick and “other Eagles if informal workouts get off the ground" this week (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/15). Vick confirmed that the team will "meet for some drills" this week, and “about 15 players may attend” (PHILLY.com, 5/13). Packers G Josh Sitton said that the team “might get together as a players-only group, especially for the quarterbacks and receivers.” But in Milwaukee, Lori Nickel noted it is “still only in a discussion phase” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 5/14).
The NBA’s initial proposal for a new CBA "called for a $45 million per team hard salary cap along with non-guaranteed player contracts and significant cuts in annual salary increases," according to John Lombardo of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The details, spelled out in an April 26 memo issued by NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter, "marks the league’s push for a major overhaul of the NBA’s economic model and emphasizes to players an aggressive bid to significantly slash costs and shorten contracts." The memo "was sent to all NBA players and was dated just days prior to the league delivering to the union a new labor proposal, which a source said still included the $45 million hard cap but added a phase-in of the cap over a few years." The memo’s "most eye-popping element is the league’s proposed $45 million hard cap, which cuts the current $58 million soft cap by nearly 25 percent." The inclusion of non-guaranteed player contracts "represents a radical shift for players who have long benefited from guaranteed deals." Hunter in his memo said, "The nature of the owners’ demands is so onerous that I feel it is imperative to reinforce the message of our recent team meetings with this letter." The memo also "explains that players would be put into one of four categories under a hard cap system, namely, Category A: a minimum salary player; Category B: a rookie wage scale player; Category C: a maximum salary player; and Category D: a player 'fighting for whatever room remains under the new hard salary cap after the three above categories are accounted for'" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/16 issue). Agent Mark Termini said, "The NBA effectively has a hard-cap system now due to the mechanics of the luxury tax. Very few teams are willing to pay it, so that luxury tax number becomes the de facto salary limit each season for almost every team" (Lorain MORNING JOURNAL, 5/14).
BUSINESS AS USUAL: In New Orleans, John Reid reported unlike some NBA teams that have "begun bracing for a potential lockout with staff reductions," the Hornets are taking a "business-as-usual approach." Hornets President Hugh Weber said that the team is "eschewing cost-cutting measures and instead focusing on its objective of selling 10,000 season tickets for 2011-12." The team "has sold about 8,000 season tickets to date." Weber said that "nothing has changed operationally from the Hornets’ perspective." Weber: "Certainly we work internally on what our objectives are and what type of personnel (players) we need to get in. It’s really unrelated to the CBA conversations. We are not actively involved in negotiating it" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 5/14).
READY FOR ANYTHING: In Boston, Julian Benbow noted if there is a lockout, teams "will be in a holding pattern over the offseason, with everything from free agency to summer league in limbo." Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge said, "When we learn what the new rules will be and we learn what kind of money we have to spend and what sort of things we can and can’t do, we’ll be prepared. We’ll be preparing for lots of different scenarios and following collective bargaining conversations, even now hoping that nothing happens and we just go as is or move forward on July 1. But we’ll be prepared for anything" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/14).
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem yesterday said that the Tour "might reconsider testing for HGH," according to Hank Gola of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Speaking at The Players, Finchem said, "Possibly. I think that the big question about HGH is reliable testing. That's the challenge with all sports. That's the first question. And then the second question is if there is reliable testing available and it's only blood, do we want to go to blood, which is another step. ... We're testing for a lot of stuff right now that candidly doesn't make a difference but we do it so that our program has credibility in the anti-doping world." He admitted that with golf rejoining the Olympics in '16, HGH testing "could be forced upon the PGA Tour." Meanwhile, Finchem reiterated that he "put no pressure" on Tiger Woods to play last week. Woods withdrew from The Players Thursday due to injuries, and Finchem said yesterday, "We communicate with players all the time with weak fields, weak field events, and we encourage players to move their schedule around and try to include a weak field. We never go to a player and say, 'Would you please, please, please play this event, this event or any other event,' ever. I hope that sets the record straight" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/16). In Jacksonville, Garry Smits noted Finchem "seemed amused that the Tour could make its biggest star of the last 14 years do anything he didn't want to do." It is "fairly well-known that the Tour, if anything, tip-toes around Woods, as opposed to dictating any terms about anything to the player who has driven its train since 1997" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 5/13).
A LOOK AT THE SCHEDULE: USA TODAY's Steve DiMeglio notes The Players moved to May in '07, and it "sounds like it won't be moving back to March anytime soon." Finchem yesterday said, "We like the flow of May; we like the weather. ... We're still working on getting this golf course ready, and this year we were helped by the weather. But we did a lot of things during the course of the year that should help us should we get another date. So we like it, players like it, fans like it, and we're very pleased with it thus far." He added that negotiations for a new TV contract "will begin this summer" (USA TODAY, 5/16). In DC, Barry Svrluga notes while "any dramatic shifts in the PGA Tour schedule likely won’t occur" until '13, when the Tour will have new TV contracts, Finchem "left open the possibility that there will be some movement next year." Changes next year "could, potentially, affect the AT&T National," Tiger Woods' tournament that is set to return to DC next summer. Finchem said, "It’s possible. We haven’t actually finalized things for next year, so there may be some movement." Svrluga notes AT&T National officials are "open to another date that might lure a better field" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/16).
YOUNG & THE RESTLESS: ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechoswki wrote the PGA Tour "got its golf shorts pulled down" yesterday when 41-year-old K.J. Choi defeated 44-year-old David Toms in a playoff to win The Players. Choi's victory "won't do much for what the tour fears most: life after you-know-who," and the last day of The Players "was like the Champions Tour Lite." Golf "craves superstars who win majors and dominate tournaments -- and the tour doesn't have one of those right now." Wojciechowski: "A playoff finish was exciting stuff Sunday, but the tour needs more, much more, than a 40-year-olds convention at its premier event. It needs the next Tiger" (ESPN.com, 5/15). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said with Tiger Woods out indefinitely with an injury, golf's future is "uncertain." If Woods returns and plays like an average golfer, “the Tour is going to be lessened, the Tour is going to be diminished” ("PTI," ESPN, 5/13).
FIFA recently received “one of the most devastating indictments ever voiced in public about the methods of the men” who run the organization, and some “see the present crisis as an opportunity for reform,” according to Kuper & Blitz of the FINANCIAL TIMES. Four members of FIFA’s Exec Committee were accused of “unethical behaviour ahead of last December’s vote to choose the hosts” of the '18 and '22 World Cups. Still, FIFA “looks better placed” than the IOC “to resist outside pressure.” Former IOC Dir of Television & Marketing Michael Payne said, “The Olympics is founded on the proposition of fair play and the highest ethical values. … The World Cup is a mega-event, but it’s not fundamentally built on a set of values.” But he added, “If FIFA does nothing and the media keeps the heat on, at some point one or other sponsor will be forced to say something.” To date, “no broadcaster or sponsor -- which include Coca-Cola, Visa and Sony -- has publicly criticised FIFA.” The organization's “many scandals in recent years appear not to have damaged the World Cup.” Kuper & Blitz: “Facing little pressure from outside, FIFA will reform only if it wants to” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 5/14).
TIME FOR CHANGE: The FINANCIAL TIMES wrote cricket and soccer “must reform their governance structure.” Sports governance reform “is not impossible.” The IOC “has achieved it.” Two “immediate steps could easily be implemented: presidents of global sports bodies should be restricted to two four-year terms in office, and organizations such as FIFA should have independent, international boards of directors enforcing transparency and accountability” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 5/14).