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Negotiations between the NFL and NFLPA for a new CBA "are 80-85 percent complete," according to a source cited by Mike Freeman of CBSSPORTS.com. The two sides, meeting this week outside DC, have "made such fast progress" that it is "catching many of the principals by surprise." Some of the lead negotiators believe that an agreement "will be reached within a matter of days." Freeman noted the negotiations "continue to move solidly into that threshold of a season will be played, not if one will be played." That "doesn't mean the negotiations can't revert back to the primordial days of disgust and hatred, or that the talks can't implode." It does mean, however, that the discussions "are in such a good place it would be difficult for even the most selfish, destructive personality to affect them." The tone of recent meetings "has taken such a dramatic turn it has indeed been like a different set of gatherings." In addition to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith having dinner together last week, "several owners and players have had private lunches together," and these "smaller, informal meetings also have helped" (CBSSPORTS.com, 6/14). Sources said that both the NFL and NFLPA are "evaluating and strongly considering concessions on all fronts, and that has led to a belief that a deal could be done in two to four weeks." NFL.com's Albert Breer noted in a "sign of the progress made, the legal teams on both sides have returned to the meetings, after sitting out the sessions" in suburban Chicago and Long Island the past two weeks. Two sources indicated that a framework for a new CBA "could be in place before the owners' meetings next Tuesday in suburban Chicago" (NFL.com, 6/14).
LET'S MAKE A DEAL: Sources characterized the owners and players as "being in a 'deal-making mode' and hope to make significant progress over the next two or three days." Another source said that the "major topic this week is the percentage that goes to players" (ESPN.com, 6/14). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel cited a source as saying that the framework of a new CBA "could be in place by this weekend." The source said, "A June 30 or July 4 announcement is a reasonable expectation." The source added that "negotiations this month have been marked by both comity and urgency" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/14). In DC, Mark Maske cites sources as saying that "an accord just before the July 4 holiday appears increasingly realistic." Sources noted that the recent talks "have been marked by a dramatic change in tone," perhaps because "courtroom decisions that favor the owners have affected negotiating leverage and the threat of a shortened season looms if the talks stall again" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/15). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch cites sources as saying that attorneys for both sides were invited to this week's negotiating sessions "to sign off on the numerous line-by-line details of an agreement that could resolve the three-month-old work stoppage by the end of the month -- if not sooner." A source said, "Hope is in the air. It's not a done deal, but it's looking very good" (N.Y. POST, 6/15). However, USA TODAY's Gary Graves notes an "end to the lockout does not appear imminent," and predicting such "would be premature" (USA TODAY, 6/15). ESPN's Adam Schefter cited sources as saying that it is "hard to imagine a deal getting done in the next couple of weeks." However, to keep the "entire preseason in place and to allow time for free agency, they’re going to have to get a deal done by roughly July 14th." Schefter: "There’s a real push now from both sides to try and get this done” (“NFL Live,” ESPN, 6/14).
IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL: In L.A., Sam Farmer cites a source as indicated that "many owners are feeling more encouraged that a deal is within reach than they have been at any other time throughout the process" (L.A. TIMES, 6/15). On Long Island, Tom Rock notes the NFL ahead of next week's gathering in Chicago "has told the owners to clear their schedule and be available not only Tuesday for the meeting but also for the possibility of meetings Tuesday night and even into next Wednesday." While it is "not clear they are opening time for a possible vote on a proposal, it's another sign of promise that the ... lockout could be gasping its final breaths" (NEWSDAY, 6/15). In N.Y., Ralph Vacchiano notes rather than voting on a tentative CBA next week, it "seems more likely the owners would be briefed on the progress, discuss the direction of the negotiations, and then send their negotiating team back in the hopes of striking a deal the following week." The hope is that a new deal "will be in place by early July, which would give teams enough time to conduct their free-agent business so training camps could open on time and the full preseason could be saved." Still, sources "cautioned that while progress is being made, an agreement is still far from complete" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/15).
TALKS ALMOST SHUT DOWN YESTERDAY: ESPN's Adam Schefter cites a source as saying talks "almost blew up yesterday." That moment came "shortly after lawyers from both sides were brought back into the process." Two sources said that as tensions "rose and anger grew ... Smith instructed his lawyers to 'stand down.'" The process "was said the get back on track" once the lawyers were removed from direct negotiations. Schefter: "The incident is an example of just how tenuous these talks can be and how quickly they can be derailed. ... To say this is going to be done in two weeks, one source said, 'is borderline insane'" (ESPN.com, 6/15).SI.com's Peter King wrote, "I don't believe the owners meeting will be held to vote on a new collective bargaining agreement. I don't think it's that close ... I think it's more likely we're a couple of weeks away from even a preliminary agreement" (SI.com, 6/14).
A LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: A Patriots player rep said, "There finally seems to be a level of professionalism about what’s going on in these meetings." In Boston, Manza Young & Bedard note if a "settlement is struck in the first week of July, it would leave time for a shortened free agency period, and training camps could start in early August, a little bit later than they would normally" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/15). In Michigan, Tom Kowalski wrote, "If this deal really gets done by the middle of July, it will mean that intelligence and common sense trumped greed. Wow. Could it really happen?" (MLIVE.com, 6/14). CBSSPORTS.com's Clark Judge wrote, "I don't know that we gain a settlement soon, but it sure seems as if we'll get a season. And when that happens, people will congratulate commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and tell them how grateful they were that they returned the NFL to us. But I'm not so sure it was either who jumpstarted these talks. I'll credit the calendar, the courts and money instead" (CBSSPORTS.com, 6/14).
NBA and NBPA officials met yesterday to discuss CBA proposals made during the Finals, but the two sides "remain hundreds of millions of dollars apart," according to sources cited by Ken Berger of CBSSPORTS.com. NBA Senior VP/Marketing Communications Mike Bass said that yesterday's negotiating session included Commissioner David Stern, Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver, NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter and the union's "in-house staff." A larger meeting "including the owners' full labor relations committee and the players' executive committee is scheduled for Friday in Manhattan." One of the sources said that the owners "have twice offered to delay their vision of at least a 33 percent pay cut for the players, delivered through a hard salary cap with shorter and non-guaranteed contracts -- first through a two-year phase-in and then, in a verbal offer during the Finals, by adding at least one more year to 'soften the landing.'" But sources added that "once the phase-in period ends, the owners are still insistent on their original plan -- proposed in January 2010 -- to deduct approximately $900 million in expenses from the league's basketball-related income (BRI) and reduce the players' share of that from 57 percent to a 50-50 split" (CBSSPORTS.com, 6/14). ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan cited sources as saying that the owners "have not moved off their demand for the players to give up approximately $750 million from the $2.1 billion" in BRI they earned last season. In addition to "rollbacks on salaries due for next season and beyond, owners are also proposing a 10-year agreement with a hard salary cap, a reduction in the length of contracts and an end to fully guaranteed contracts, among other things" (ESPN.com, 6/14).
A MIDSUMMER NIGHTMARE: NBA.com's Steve Aschburner noted a "real-world parallel headed the NBA's way, it looks like, could be a growing disparity between the haves and have-nots." The past two CBAs "were mindful of the league's middle-class players, serving them with cap exceptions, full and early 'Bird' rights clauses and other provisions." But owners "have found that it's not so much the max-salary deals that financially strap their teams, it's the $30 million, $40 million and $50 million packages paid out to average or slightly better players." Aschburner: "Now those rank-and-file types might have to settle for a CBA that is worse than what they've had for so many years" (NBA.com, 6/14). Clippers G Eric Gordon said, "I don't really know what's going to happen and I don't think the player representatives know much yet. All I know is that they are working hard for us to have a season next year" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 6/15). CSNBayArea.com's Ray Ratto said, “If the NBA locks out, it’s going to be just like the NHL lockout. It’s going to take them three years to get the audience back and five years to get the ratings back” (“Chronicle Live,” Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 6/14). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser: “The NFL can go away for a year and the moment it comes back, it’s as big as it was before. The NBA can’t do that” ("PTI," ESPN, 6/14).
DIFFERENT THAN THE NFL: In S.F., Bruce Jenkins writes, "This isn't quite like the NFL, where the ongoing lockout is pure insanity. ... The NBA has legitimate issues. Teams are in trouble." The owners' plan allegedly is to "shut down the game, wait for the players to get desperate, then watch them surrender," and that is "exactly what will happen." Jenkins: "Football fans will come back in droves, and so will people interested in watching the best basketball players in the world. We're all suckers in this scam" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 6/15). In Buffalo, Allen Wilson writes with the NFL situation, there was "always a feeling the owners and players would come to their senses and realize how stupid it would be to mess up a good thing." Wilson: "It looks like the NBA and the players union are intent on shutting the doors, shutting out the fans and wringing the golden goose's neck" (BUFFALO NEWS, 6/15). San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami said the NBA will have a lockout “because the economics are going to force them into it." Kawakami: "The NFL can’t do it because it’s too stupid to shutdown the league” ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 6/14).
Angels manager Mike Scioscia yesterday "shot a considerable hole through speculation" that MLB is considering eliminating divisions as part of its realignment plan, according to Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. TIMES. Scioscia, a member of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's Special Committee for On-Field Matters, said, “I haven’t heard anything about eliminating divisions -- I don’t think that works. I think divisional play and the geographic rivalries that come with it are important. More teams have opportunities to get to the playoffs in five-team divisions." He added, "Our committee has not discussed eliminating divisions” (LATIMES.com, 6/14). Cardinals P and player rep Kyle McClellan yesterday confirmed that "discussions about realignment of divisions are part of ongoing talks" between MLB and the MLBPA regarding the next CBA, and he believes that "there are strong arguments for change." McClellan said, “I really like (interleague play). I think it’s exciting for us to see the stadiums and to face the different players. But the way it’s set up is unfair." Current alignment requires teams in the same division to play interleague schedules “that include series against a designated ‘rival’ team.” McClellan said, "It’s very important to play the same schedule when it comes down to the best record getting you into the playoffs.” He would not “handicap the chances of realignment occurring because the issue is one of many in play" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 6/15).
CHANGE WILL DO YOU GOOD: In DC, Dave Sheinin notes while MLB officials are giving realignment a "less than 50-50 chance of coming to fruition by 2012, this is a time of soul-searching and brainstorming within the game, and you have to applaud the effort spent trying to level the playing field.” For teams such as the Orioles and Nationals, the “notion of two-15 team leagues with five playoff teams apiece -- and no more ties to East-Coast divisions full of huge payrolls -- has to be welcome news.” It will not “be possible to satisfy everyone,” but players and management “appear amenable to making changes in the interest of fairness, and that’s good news for baseball” (WASHINGTON POST, 6/15). In Cincinnati, Paul Daugherty suggests ways to improve MLB under the header, "Suggestions For Selig." Daugherty: "Go ahead and realign. Send Houston or Arizona to the AL. Then divide into three, five team NL divisions. Do it by market size” (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 6/15).
DON'T MESS WITH A GOOD THING: SI.com’s Joe Lemire writes if MLB realigns into two 15-team leagues and eliminates divisions, the league “might as well hand the ballplayers pucks and a hoop, too, because baseball will have lost its playoff identity and joined the NHL and NBA in their free-for-all postseason entrance.” Lemire: “If baseball is intent on expanding its postseason to five teams per league, then it should just go ahead and add the second wild card without abolishing the divisional format that has served baseball so well since 1969” (SI.com, 6/15). In San Diego, Nick Canepa writes, "Realignment should be reserved for automobiles and spines, not baseball. They're constantly massaging this game. They should leave it alone.” Realignment, "in some form, is going to happen." A baseball official said, "There's a definite probability something's going to come out of this." Canepa notes the "proposed system guarantees interleague play isn’t going to go away," because with two 15-team leagues, "there would have to be an interleague series once a week.” Padres Vice Chair & CEO Jeff Moorad said “Our fan base seems to respond well to interleague play. The competition is there and that’s a positive. I don’t know that interleague play won’t have less meaning as we go along” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 6/15).
Adam Helfant yesterday said that he is stepping down as ATP Exec Chair & President at the end of this year "on good terms." Helfant: "Negotiations are negotiations, but my relationship with the board is perfectly fine, perfectly professional." He refused to discuss specifics about why he is leaving the ATP, saying, "The job has been challenging but, in that regard, it is no different to other jobs at the top level of sports business. I'm used to dealing with complex challenges so it certainly hasn't been anything I couldn't or didn't handle. I'm really proud of what we've accomplished in my three years with the ATP." Helfant added, "I just decided when my contract is up at the end of this year (and) it will be the right time to move on. I don't know where I go from here. I haven't spent much time thinking about it" (GUARDIAN, 6/15).
STREET PARTY? IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said that he would "like to add a street race in Houston" to next year's Izod IndyCar Series schedule. Bernard said that he "eventually would like to expand the 17-race slate to 22-24 races with an emphasis on larger markets that maximize exposure." He wants to "keep a 50-50 balance between ovals and road/street courses but said dropping races remained a possibility" (USA TODAY, 6/15).
HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING: In Phoenix, Mark Faller wrote the violence in the Canucks-Bruins Stanley Cup Final and in the playoffs overall is an "uncomfortable coda to an NHL season that wrestled with serious injury all year." Canucks LW Mason Raymond and Bruins RW Nathan Horton both "have been hurt badly enough to be knocked out of the series, or worse." There has been a "lot of hand-wringing over changing the NHL rules to address hits to the head, and protecting players from blindside shots." Faller noted people's "hearts are in the right place, but I'm not sure any rules change would have protected" Raymond or Horton (AZCENTRAL.com, 6/14).
GOING IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS: In Rochester, Jeff DiVeronica noted nearly five years after MLS Commissioner Don Garber indicated the league would like to add a franchise in the city, MLS "has added a half-dozen cities not named 'Rochester' and is thriving." Asked about Rochester's prospect of landing a team, MLS Exec VP/Communications Dan Courtemanche said, "(MLS) respects the rich soccer tradition in Rochester and western New York, but Rochester is not currently under consideration for a future MLS expansion team. It has been a few years since any active discussions took place" (ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, 6/12).