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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday said that he "expected the league's new collective bargaining agreement to be completed" as early as today, according to Bob Glauber of NEWSDAY. If the CBA's remaining issues, including the process for HGH testing and the extent of Goodell's "disciplinary authority," are resolved, players who "signed or reworked contracts after the lockout ended last week can begin practicing." The players "will vote on the CBA once it is completed." Giants C and player rep Zak DeOssie said it is "looking very optimistic" the CBA will be signed by today's deadline. However, Steelers S and player rep Ryan Clark yesterday would only say that "talks are ongoing." He added the disciplinary process "with Roger Goodell having total control over the fine process, that's a deal-breaker for us in this situation" (NEWSDAY, 8/4). In N.Y., Kevin Armstrong notes if the CBA is ratified, "the league year would begin as scheduled" at 4:01pm ET. NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said, "It's up to the players. When they ratify the agreement, the league year will start and those with new contracts can begin practicing" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/4). ESPN's Adam Schefter today cites sources as saying that Goodell "will retain power to mete out discipline under the personal conduct policy" in the new CBA (ESPN.com, 8/4). The Washington Post’s Mark Maske reported on his Twitter feed, “When new CBA is ratified, it is expected that players will be able to appeal suspensions under drug policy to an independent arbitrator … but players won't be able to appeal suspensions under personal conduct policy to arbitrator. Commissioner would retain final say there” (TWITTER.com, 8/4).
FALSE ALARM: In Pittsburgh, Ed Bouchette reports the Steelers were "the first in the league to sound the alarm Wednesday that players might not approve the new collective bargaining agreement as expected today because those 'minor' issues that were supposed to be cleared up over the past 10 days have not been." Steelers QB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Charlie Batch said that there are "a number of issues that have to be solved before the players can approve a deal the owners approved unanimously" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 8/4). However, Bouchette this morning reported on Twitter that Clark "says while not perfect he approves of new cba deal” (TWITTER.com, 8/4).
LIGHT IN THE TUNNEL: In Boston, Monique Walker notes Patriots OT and player rep Matt Light "agrees" with the credit given to team Owner Robert Kraft for his role in the CBA negotiations. Light said, "When we went to the meetings, they let me know how important it was to have him in the room and what kind of leadership and just real experience he brought to the whole conversation." Light said that he "couldn't worry about how being a player rep would affect him when it came time to negotiate his own contract." Light said, "My role from day one as a player rep has always been to help inform my guys as to what's happening, what they can expect from their union, what their benefits are, all those things that a young guy and even in some cases older guys don't fully understand. And that's the extent of it. I don't get involved in all the politics and behind-the-scenes stuff" (BOSTON GLOBE, 8/4).
ROGER THAT: In Charlotte, Ron Green Jr. notes Goodell yesterday appeared at the Panthers' training camp and took questions from fans for "about 45 minutes" prior to practice. Goodell said an 18-game regular season "could happen" during the life of the 10-year CBA. When asked if there could be a Super Bowl played in the Carolinas, Goodell said, "The owners have so much respect for (team owner Jerry) Richardson that it wouldn't surprise me, but hosting a Super Bowl has really become pretty complex." Goodell also indicated that "league officials were meeting with Time Warner Cable officials on Wednesday about adding the NFL Network to the cable giant's package," but he "did not offer specifics" about the meeting (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/4). SportsBusiness Journal's Don Muret offers more of what Goodell talked about yesterday at Panthers' training camp.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell participated in a fan forum yesterday at the Panthers’ training camp in Spartanburg, S.C. In the first of six of these events NFL officials have planned for training camps, Goodell answered questions from about a dozen fans among the few hundred in attendance as part of the 40-minute discussion. He said that the toughest obstacle to overcome during the CBA talks was "getting people to listen to one another." Goodell: "When you get into a situation where you have a labor dispute, the immediate reaction is get entrenched in your position and not listen. The most critical moment in our negotiation is when we had the principals talk to one another. We threw all the lawyers out, all the negotiators, everybody but five owners, myself, DeMaurice Smith, head of the players' association and five players. We had three days of discussions in Chicago, starting with an informal dinner where we talked about each other and understood what we were all about. In those two days that followed, we made more progress than we had done in six months before that. Once you do that, you can find solutions. It takes compromise.”
LEAGUE'S ROLE IN DRUG TESTING, PERSONAL CONDUCT: Goodell said the NFL has had a "leadership role" in enforcing drug policies and personal conduct, and the league "will continue to do that." He said, "We were the first to have a drug policy leaguewide and we were the first to really have a personal conduct policy that sets us apart. We will continue to improve those because I think you have to do that. In the collective bargaining agreement, it’s no secret we’re negotiating over extending our testing to HGH, a new form of performance enhancement. But the message is clear: you don’t play in the NFL if you don’t act properly. If you don’t conduct yourself and reflect well on the league, you’re going to have a short career in the NFL.” Goodell noted he would not allow a third-party committee outside of the NFL to handle discipline for players, coaches and owners. Goodell: "I am not going to hand off the brand and the reputation of the NFL to somebody who is not associated with the NFL. It is one of the No. 1 jobs as a commissioner in my opinion. [Panthers owner Jerry] Richardson probably doesn’t like this, even though he’s one of my 32 bosses ... I have had the unfortunate experience of fining him too, by the way." Upon hearing that, Richardson held up two fingers. Goodell said, "Twice. Obviously, he didn’t forget. It’s something critical, that you have that authority to make sure teams are following rules.”
PRESEASON TO BE ADDRESSED: Goodell noted he hears "consistently" from fans about reducing ticket prices for preseason games, and that is why the league "started to evaluate the potential of an 18-game regular season." He said, "We know the quality of the preseason is something we have to address, we talked about that a great deal during collective bargaining. There’s another side to that, which is health and safety, that’s why we’re implementing some of these rules [such as eliminating two-a-day practices] and then we’ll discuss this with the union over the next couple years and if we’re successful in addressing that properly, maybe reducing the preseason, which I think is a better solution than just reducing price.”
HOPING FOR L.A. RETURN: The commissioner said the NFL has been "very open that we would like to be back in the Los Angeles market, a market where we know we have milions of NFL fans." The league is "working toward getting a stadium built there and hopefully someday we’ll be able to get a team back there." Goodell added the new 10-year CBA "is going to give us this ability to look way down the road ... internationally." Goodell: "We continue to have regular season games in Toronto and London, and I believe that it’s not unrealistic to think that we’ll have a franchise in London some day.”
NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter yesterday said that if "he 'had to bet on it,' he would wager that the entire 2011-12 season would be wiped out by the lockout," according to Jeff Barker of the Baltimore SUN. Hunter, speaking at a National Bar Association conference in Baltimore, said that NBA Commissioner David Stern "was being limited in negotiations by hard-line owners." Hunter: "In the last six or seven years, there is a new group of owners to come in who paid a premium for their franchises, and what they're doing is kind of holding his feet to the fire." Hunter added with both sides dug in, "Something has to happen that both of us can use as leverage to save face." NBA VP/Basketball Communications Tim Frank said that the league "had no immediate response" to Hunter's comments (Baltimore SUN, 8/4). The Nation's Dave Zirin said of Stern, "He's got everybody scared of him. I think the main block to labor peace in the NBA is David Stern, quite frankly.” Washington Post columnist Jason Reid said, “He has juice and he'll shut this thing down as long as he has to until he can turn back the clock to 1980” ("Washington Post Live," Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, 8/3).
POWER BROKER: TRUE HOOP's Henry Abbott noted attorney Jeffrey Kessler is the "big name in sports labor legal circles, and the pioneer of the antitrust litigation that has had industry-changing results" in the NFL. He also represents the NBPA, and that "seems to bother the owners, who mentioned Kessler by name four times in their recent complaint in federal courts." The owners "say, essentially, that if Kessler's on the scene, antitrust trouble looms." ESPN's Lester Munson said, "Kessler and the players could have some surprises for the owners. My guess is that there will be no decertification and no litigation from the players. But that does not mean we will see a complete NBA season. It means that negotiation will replace litigation as the centerpiece of the lockout" (ESPN.com, 8/3).
DOLLARS AND SENSE: Stern reportedly will not take a salary during the NBA lockout, and columnist Kevin Blackistone said, "This is a corporate ruse. We see CEOs do it all the time when they’re restructuring. We just saw Roger Goodell do it in the NFL when he said, ‘I’m reducing my salary to a dollar,’ while everybody else was locked out. Stop it. He’ll get his money.” Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, “If he takes the money, he’s a bad guy. If he doesn’t take the money, people say, ‘Well, that’s inconsequential.’ He can’t really win that argument" (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 8/3). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said Stern “absolutely” should forfeit his salary. Wilbon: “People making 40 grand getting laid off? Yeah, he should forfeit his salary” (“PTI,” ESPN, 8/3).
HoopTV producer and director Fred Smith during the NBA lockout is "angling" for a "domestic, player-led exhibition tour that could possibly evolve into a league of their own," according to Sam Amick of SI.com. Smith "spent much of Sunday trying to convince NBA players that it's time for them to step up in this endeavor." There has been "talk of a Aug. 20 All-Star exhibition between" L.A. summer league the Drew League and the DC-based Goodman League in DC. But while Drew League Commissioner Dino Smiley and Smith "were hoping to have the airfare, transportation and housing covered for NBA and non-NBA players alike, the lack of a media partner has left them scrambling for sponsors." Smith said, "I try to explain to these players, 'Why do you think ... that ESPN, Fox, TNT -- for the most part -- haven't been knocking down your door to talk with you, haven't been looking to do interviews with you? Because they're partners with the NBA.'" But he added, "As this whole lockout continues, I think the pressure is going to be on a lot of these broadcasters who are losing a ton of money in advertising by not carrying the NBA to provide some kind of basketball. And I think once mid-November hits and some of these guys start missing paychecks, they're going to want to figure out, 'Well, we need to settle this thing or find other ways to make some money.'" Amick noted Smith "had big plans even before the lockout." He "intended to launch The Basketball Channel as either a television network or online outlet next summer, showcasing the men's and women's game on every level '24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,' as the promise goes on the channel's website." But the lockout "prompted Smith to launch TheBasketballChannel.net now, and discussions with Ustream to air the Drew-Goodman game have given way to a plan to show it on his website for $4.95 per viewing" (SI.com, 8/3).
U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy "served up a surprise on Wednesday when he revealed that he intends to join" the PGA Tour beginning in '12 and "set up a home in Florida," according to Lawrence Donegan of the GUARDIAN. McIlroy announced that he "wants to play a 'full schedule' in the US next year, adding that he sees his long-term future centring" on the PGA Tour. He said, "I feel as if I play my best golf over here. I am very comfortable in this country." McIlroy said that he spoke to PGA Tour officials yesterday morning ahead of this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and "informed them of his intentions." His decision "represents a startling volte-face," having indicated this year that he did not plan to apply for his PGA Tour card after dropping it at the end of last season. News of his decision "will come as a boost" to the Tour, which will be "negotiating new TV deals in the coming months." Donegan notes there was "little indication of what has caused this change of mind, though it is safe to assume" that McIlroy's breakup with his longtime girlfriend from Northern Ireland "may have had something to do with it" (GUARDIAN, 8/4). In Orlando, Jeff Shain notes McIlroy spent part of yesterday "meeting with PGA Tour officials to discuss the procedures of regaining membership." He faces a Nov. 22 deadline to formally "tell the PGA Tour his intentions" for next season. McIlroy yesterday said, "I feel as if my game really suits playing courses over here. I love Quail Hollow, Memorial, Akron. You play Match Play, Honda, Doral, Masters" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 8/4). McIlroy added, "I’d like to give it a go again and obviously last more than one year and really see how it goes" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 8/3).
COMING & GOING: In London, James Corrigan notes McIlroy's announced intention to play more in the U.S. is a "stunning change of heart, which was greeted with euphoria on one side of the pond and something of despair on the other." Sources indicated that McIlroy will "probably end up playing in the region of 17 events in the States, restricting his European Tour appearances to six which, with the majors and the WGC events, would take him up to the bare minimum of 13." McIlroy still will "appear on his home continent, but the move will be a huge blow for the European Tour, if only because of the marketing implications of not owning McIlroy 'exclusively.'" Sources suggested that McIlroy "was struggling with all the attention in his homeland" (London INDEPENDENT, 8/4). CBSSPORTS.com's Steve Elling wrote PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem likely is "dancing an Irish jig" after hearing McIlroy's intentions. McIlroy has "flash, panache and charisma," and he would "immediately leap to the fore as one of the tour's most indispensible players, especially with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson laboring to keep their footholds at the top" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/3). GOLF.com' Gary Van Sickle wrote, "The return of McIlroy would come at a key time as the PGA Tour prepares to negotiate a new round of contracts with its television partners" (GOLF.com, 8/3). Golf Channel's Gary Williams said, "This is Texas Hold 'em with TV networks and with the PGA Tour. I’m not holding up a 10 – the 10 is a healthy Tiger. But this young kid is a euro rock star. He is a 9.” Golf Channel’s Erik Kuselias: “This would be a win for the PGA Tour that gives them a little of their prestige back" ("Morning Drive," Golf Channel, 8/4). On Long Island, Mark Herrmann writes rejoining the PGA Tour would be "quite a departure for a young golfer who was outspoken about how the PGA Tour was not his cup of tea when he tried it last year." McIlroy "particularly disliked" the FedExCup playoff format (NEWSDAY, 8/4).
GUESS WHO'S BACK? Tiger Woods returns to golf today at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational after a nearly three month layoff, and GOLF WORLD's John Feinstein writes for the "first time since he welcomed himself to the PGA Tour" 15 years ago, Woods "needs golf more than golf needs" him. Feinstein: "Will TV ratings go up if Woods contends? Of course. Will people become breathless if he goes on an early Sunday birdie-binge the way he did at Augusta this past April? Sure. If none of that happens, though, what we now know is that the sport will go on." Golf will "happily welcome Woods back to the point" where Finchem and TV execs "might line up to throw rose petals at his feet." But the sport "will move along without him if need be." Twelve golfers have won the last 13 majors since Woods won the '08 U.S. Open, creating "new stars" for the game of golf. At the same time, Woods' winless streak "has also rekindled some older players." Feinstein: "Woods is still more famous than all of them combined. But he is as famous for his life failures these days as he is for his golf accomplishments. ... Golf isn't all-Tiger, all-the-time anymore. Fans will embrace this next group of stars" (GOLF WORLD, 8/8 issue).