SBD/June 6, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 87: Sides Debate Issue Of Antitrust Law Vs. Labor Law

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday listened to NFL attorney Paul Clement and NFLPA attorney Ted Olson "spend a good deal of their allotted 30 minutes grappling with the issue of antitrust law vs. labor law in light of the NFLPA's decision to decertify in March," according to Stu Durando of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. The NFL continued to argue that the Norris-LaGuardia Act "prohibits the injunction" delivered by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson. Clement argued "repeatedly that the league would not have instituted a lockout if it didn't think an agreement was on the horizon, calling it 'a self-inflicted wound' and 'suicide.'" Olson contended that "because the players' union took steps to decertify," it now falls under antitrust laws. Olson said that he "knows of 15 cases in which the league has been found in violation of those laws," but Clement argued that the league "should be protected from antitrust lawsuits for a year." Before Friday's hearing ended, appellate judge Kermit Bye said, "We will take this case and render a decision in due course. We won't, I might also say, be all that hurt if you're leaving us out and if you should go out and settle the case." Durando notes more than 20 NFL players attended the hearing, along with NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith and Jets Owner Woody Johnson; NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did not (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 6/4). In N.Y., Judy Battista noted both sides "relied on familiar points in the hearing." Judges Steve Colloton and Duane Benton, who "have voted with the owners on the temporary and full stay decisions, asked almost all of the questions, and they peppered" Olson with "more questions than they did" Clement. Talks between the NFL and NFLPA are expected to resume this week, and it is "possible the appeals court could wait to issue its decision in order to give the parties time to reach a settlement." A decision from the appeals court "would most likely come later this month or in July" (N.Y. TIMES, 6/4).

TIME TO REACH A DEAL: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch noted legal experts "expect the decidedly conservative appeals panel to rule for the owners by tossing out the injunction permanently, but that doesn't mean the NFL is in the judges' good graces." That was "clear from the acidic closing comment from Bye, who was the lone supporting vote for the players on the temporary injunction but now -- like just about everyone else -- appears to be running out of patience with both sides" (N.Y. POST, 6/4). CBSSPORTS.com's Clark Judge wrote Bye's "suggestion was clear: Find a way to settle this yourselves, guys, and try to make it quick" (CBSSPORTS.com, 6/3). In Philadelphia, Bob Ford noted it is expected the appeals court "will split, 2-1, as they have on previous rulings in this case," and the lockout "will remain in force." What happens "after that isn't as clear, but the players are betting everything that their move to decertify the union -- while continuing to operate as one -- will make it possible to win an antitrust suit against the league." Ford: "Unfortunately for the players, no one ... expects that to actually work" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 6/4). ESPN’s Andrew Brandt said, “If the owners win, the players have to look in the mirror and see an indefinite lockout on the horizon. There are no more markers. There's no more courtroom football. They can appeal, but those are unlikely. So now we're talking about the players having to make a decision on their strategy” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 6/3). After Friday's hearing, Goodell said the two sides would meet again "soon." He also said that he "planned to spend all weekend preparing for the next round of negotiating sessions, but would not say whether they were scheduled" for this week (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 6/4). YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote, "Plenty of people on both sides should be motivated by what they heard, particularly the admonishment from Judge Kermit Bye at the end. ... Both sides could be hating life if they don’t start talking" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/3).

ON THE OWNERSHIP SIDE: Steelers Chair Emeritus Dan Rooney, serving as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, said that he "will not get involved in the current negotiations, officially or unofficially." Rooney said NFL officials "have not" brought him into the CBA conversation, and when asked if he would get involved going forward, he said, "No." Rooney: "Art's involved. He knows what he's doing." Dan Rooney said he would remain the Ambassador "probably another year" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 6/4). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver wrote the lockout is a "money grab by the owners," and the "bottom line is that the folks who sign the checks are looking to improve their bottom line." Silver added, "Even those of you who sympathize with the owners in this dispute should be repulsed by a far more gratuitous money grab that’s taking place in conjunction with the lockout -- the pay reductions of coaches and other team employees introduced by various franchises throughout the league." Several NFL coaches are "getting dinged severely," and several agents who rep coaches "have confirmed that precipitous pay cuts have been in play" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/3).

PICKING SIDES: Vikings coach Leslie Frazier on Friday said that his staff was "not consulted before the NFL Coaches Association filed a brief supporting the players." Frazier said the Vikings coaching staff will "always be supportive of our management." He added, "We've got great management here in Minnesota. The Wilf family has been terrific to our employees. But no we were not contacted by the coaches association regarding that brief" (AP, 6/4). In Phoenix, Kent Somers cited a source as saying that Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt "and his assistants knew nothing about the brief prior to its filing" (AZCENTRAL.com, 6/3). In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote NFLCA Exec Dir Larry Kennan "has had a rough couple of weeks." Since the NFLCA filed an amicus brief in support of the players' antitrust suit, at least 12 teams "have said their coaches either didn't give their consent to or didn't agree with the NFLCA's position." Bedard added, "You could probably make it all 32 teams, because you’d be hard-pressed to find an assistant coach who will tell a head coach or an owner that, yes, they are wrong. ... While Kennan has often had to take unpopular positions on behalf of assistant coaches who can’t lend their own voices out of fear of repercussions, it’s not hard to see why he filed the brief: The NFLCA is housed by and affiliated with the NFL Players Association" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/5).

HALF TIME? SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Daniel Kaplan cites sources as saying that the NFL is "considering season lengths for 2011 as short as eight regular-season games, half its normal number, as the league plans for the possibility of an abbreviated season because of the nearly three-month-long lockout." An eight-game season "could start in late November," so allowing for "five weeks up front for free agency, training camps and perhaps one preseason game, the contingency suggests that the league and players could reach a deal on a new labor agreement as late as mid- to late October and still salvage a season." Sources said that the "eight-game-season scenario is not one that’s been committed to, but it also has not been dismissed and is being studied along with other schedule permutations." Kaplan notes "how many divisional games would be played in an eight-game season, for example, is one issue the league’s competition committee would have to examine" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/6 issue).
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