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Negotiations for a new NHL CBA will reconvene in N.Y. on Tuesday "with both sides still far apart ahead of Commissioner Gary Bettman’s Sept. 15 lockout deadline," according to Jeff Klein of the N.Y. TIMES. After a 90-minute negotiating session with the NHLPA in Toronto Thursday, Bettman said, "We think we're paying too much in salaries." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said, "I'm not sure there's any employer that wouldn't like a reduction in what it pays people. That's not a surprise." When asked about the potential damage of another lockout, Bettman said, "We recovered last time because we have the world’s greatest fans." Bettman and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly Tuesday "will meet with Fehr and Fehr's brother Steve, also an NHLPA executive, in a small group session that will focus on the core economic issues dividing the two sides" (NYTIMES.com, 8/23). The CP's Chris Johnston wrote another NHL lockout "is beginning to feel like an inevitability." Johnston: "Unable to move beyond the philosophical stage of talks, the owners and players have watched another week slip by without progress" (CP, 8/23).
ECONOMICS 101: Bettman said that Thursday's session "dealt, in part, with an NHLPA proposal on players' contracting issues." He said, "It's clear we're at a point where it's going to be very difficult to move this process along until we deal with the very fundamental economic issues." In Raleigh, Chip Alexander notes Bettman "indicated Thursday that league-wide revenue-sharing was not a divisive issue in the CBA talks." He said that the league "has proposed $190 million a year go to revenue-sharing, and the union proposed a $240 million pool that offers more flexibility in helping franchises that are struggling financially" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 8/24). Penguins RW Craig Adams said, "On the core economic issues, we're still far apart. So far, we're early in the process. People don't want to hear that, but when you've sat out a whole year before, you realize it's only August. We have a long way to go" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 8/24). Red Wings G Jimmy Howard said, "The proposal we gave them was very creative, and it addressed their (ownerships') concerns." Red Wings RW Danny Cleary: "I was optimistic when we gave them our offer, but the league didn't respond to it (favorably). The game has never been better. The parity is obvious, there are probably 18 teams who have a chance to win (the Stanley Cup). Revenues are growing. Everyone would like to see the season started on time." Cleary added, "Guys are behind what we've presented. We're behind Don and our leadership" (DETROIT NEWS, 8/24).
CONTRADICTING WITH CONTRACTS: In Toronto, Lance Hornby writes two days "of owners and players butting heads in Toronto this week did very little," as a "wide gap in philosophy remains." Bettman "zinged the union by saying 'we believe we are paying the players more than we should,' and cited huge increases in the average salary in the life of the current CBA." Yet owners are "still offering mega-dollar contracts, some longer than the five year maximum they've demanded the union now accept." The "one good thing from the two days of Toronto meetings, both which lasted just half a day, were that the sides are still cordial" (TORONTO SUN, 8/24). SPORTING NEWS' Jesse Spector wrote Bettman's statement on player salaries is "one that comes off as entirely hypocritical" after the Wild spent $196M to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and the Predators matched the Flyers' $110M offer to Shea Weber. It would "be a lot easier for Bettman to make his case if star players were only getting offers from teams in the biggest markets." There is a "salary cap and a salary floor, and when the small-market Predators talk about wanting to be a cap team, it doesn't do much for the case that the players are overpaid" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/23).
LEARNING FROM HIS PEERS: YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski wrote, "Emboldened by ownership wins in the NBA and NFL, the NHL's owners want to dramatically reduce that 57-percent of revenues down to, at best for the players, a 50/50 split." This would "be accomplished via a rollback on existing contracts." The players "might even consider dipping down to the expected 50/50 split with the owners ... if the rest of the financial system was in fact the status quo." But the league "wants a reduction in salaries and revisions to the current system that will, again, protect the owners from themselves" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/23). The NATIONAL POST's Michael Traikos writes Bettman "wants a mulligan." He "wants the economic system that he envisioned in 2005, complete with cost certainty and a conservative salary cap." Essentially, he "would like to go back in time and repair the glitches that he did not foresee happening." Traikos asks, "How did the CBA, which seemed to benefit the owners and punish the players, transform into something the players want to keep but Bettman can no longer live with?" Traikos lists five key points: the strength of the Canadian dollar; the salary cap; front-loaded contracts; entry-level deals; and "owners being owners" (NATIONAL POST, 8/24). The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur writes the NHL and its players "are headed for a lockout on Sept. 15 because of leverage, and also because of a lack of leverage." At its "cold beating heart, this is about money." The "most important leverage may be the leverage hockey has over its fans, especially in Canada." That is "where the NHL is negotiating from" (NATIONAL POST, 8/24).
FANS LIKELY WILL COME BACK REGARDLESS: SportsNet N.Y.'s Kerith Burke said the league "thinks the fans will come crawling back like fools, even when owners want to be greedy again and let the CBA expire on September 15th." Burke: "If that's the perspective leading into these lockout talks, I think we're in trouble” (“Daily News Live,” SportsNet N.Y., 8/24). The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Kuc said, “I do think the fans will come back. I think hockey fans are a rare breed, I think they love the sport." It would hurt the "casual fans" (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 8/23).
The NFL and the NFL Referees Association have yet to reach an agreement to end their lockout, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Thursday acknowledged that “time was running out to make the regular officials available for the openers,” according to Rachel Cohen of the AP. Goodell said that possibly using replacement refs for regular-season games is “worthwhile to ensure long-term improvements to officiating.” Goodell: "We're anxious to get a deal done, but it has to get done that it's going to help us for the long term." He added that officials “probably need a week to 10 days to prepare for the season.” The first game is Sept. 5, with the first full Sunday of games Sept. 9. Goodell said of the replacement refs, “These officials have been trained. We’ve been working with them. We think they’ll do a very credible job” (AP, 8/23). Goodell added, "We’re still hopeful of getting an agreement done, but obviously that window is starting to draw to a close, so we’re prepared to go with our replacement officials if necessary" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 8/23). In L.A., Sam Farmer reported the league is “asking that the replacement officials show up to game sites 3 1/2 hours before kickoff -- an hour earlier than officials typically arrive -- so they can receive extra training from supervisors on such rudimentary aspects such as where to stand and how to conduct the coin toss.” Some officials are “wearing ear pieces that connect them to an eye in the sky -- another official watching from the press box -- to assist them in making calls” (LATIMES.com, 8/23).
ALWAYS IN THE PLANS? NFLRA General Counsel Michael Arnold on Thursday indicated that the NFL has "‘predetermined’ there will be a lockout.” He also said that there is “no sign that either side will resume talks to head off the work stoppage heading into the regular season.” Arnold: “The league has apparently predetermined that they're going to keep us locked out until the third or fourth week of the regular season. Their strategy has always been lockout. We feel they've had a strategy from the beginning to lock us out.” Arnold said that there have been “no negotiations since July 27.” Arnold: "I've been with this group for 18 years, and they are more united and stronger in their position than I've ever seen them" (NEWSDAY, 8/24). Arnold added that the league was “proposing adding more crews without increasing the pool of money from which they would be paid -- in effect asking existing officials to pay for the newcomers.” He said that the locked-out refs “weren’t sitting idly.” Arnold: “Our guys have been doing extensive training. They’ve been doing video review. They’ve been doing rules review and rules testing” (USA TODAY, 8/24). Meanwhile, ESPN's Chris Mortensen said he has heard "many people say it’s an insult to everybody’s intelligence” the claims made by the league and some owners that they "see no difference between the replacement officials and the regular referees” ("NFL 32," ESPN2, 8/23).
MIXED MESSAGES? In DC, Deron Snyder writes at a time when it is "preaching player safety, toning down the violence, and assuaging fears about football’s consequences, the NFL doesn’t mind using replacement officials.” Players are “bigger, stronger and faster than ever,” yet the league is “satisfied to rely on officials who aren’t even top-level in college.” The replacements are “doing the best they can.” But no matter “how good they were wherever they come from, they can’t excel on the fly, surrounded by similarly-inexperienced officials.” The league is “delusional if it thinks seven-person crews working their first NFL games will perform as well as crews with years of NFL background.” Football is “dangerous enough when played within the rules.” If players are “allowed to stretch the boundaries,” then the game could “revert to the anything-goes standard of decades past” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 8/24).
A class-action concussion lawsuit against the NFL "is likely," and if it loses such a suit, it is "possible the league could go bankrupt," according to a legal expert cited in the fifth part of a weeklong feature on the impact of NFL concussions for SPORTING NEWS. The fifth entry in Sporting News' report is titled, "Can The NFL Lose Everything?" The source said that a class-action lawsuit is likely because there "might eventually be 5,000 former NFL players who join the litigation, making it impracticable to hear each case." The source added that a class-action suit "could significantly increase the potential damages the NFL may have to pay, as such a case would represent all individuals in the class," and the potential of a larger damages reward "increases the leverage of the plaintiffs in any settlement discussions." The source said that while it is possible the league goes bankrupt, it is "not likely with the estimated league revenues of $9 billion a year." However, the source added that the NFL "has some insurance coverage, and how much of the damages/settlement will be paid by insurers is difficult to determine." The source noted that as of mid-August, "there were 135 cases with 3,402 former players." The first concussion lawsuit was filed in California state court by 75 former NFLers and 51 spouses on July 19, 2011. The first federal lawsuit against the NFL was filed on Aug. 17, 2011. The source said that if a class-action lawsuit does materialize, "some have speculated it will not reach the court until 2018." The source said of how long it could take for the litigation to play out that, "There would be appeals, so we’re talking lots of years." As for the NFL's defense, the source said that the league "will make several arguments" including, reasonable care/no negligence, preemption, assumption of risk, contributory negligence (or comparative negligence) and causation (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 8/24).
The NFLPA told a federal court Thursday that it should be allowed to bring a collusion claim against the NFL because the court never ended the old antitrust case that it oversaw. The NFLPA alleges the league engaged in collusion in '10 to restrain player pay, but the league says the '11 CBA and end of the Brady antitrust lawsuit the players brought against the NFL contained language barring such a complaint. But the union argues the CBA and settlement do not override the fact the court’s jurisdiction over pre-'11 league conduct still exists. The union argued the federal court never actually ended the court oversight of the league’s labor relations between '93 and March '11, so the '10 collusion case should be valid. The union is seeking billions of dollars in damages. In a statement to the court, NFLPA Associate General Counsel Tom DePaso also said the union did not know about the alleged collusion, even when agreeing to set the salary cap for '12. While the league did tell the union it would not sign off on the agreed cap unless cap space was taken away from the Cowboys and Redskins, he wrote, the union did not know this was because the teams ignored the alleged collusion in '10. “At no time did ... the NFL, indicate, reveal or even hint that the teams had been warned by the NFL not to spend above a certain amount of money in 2010 or that the teams had agreed to a secret salary cap which the Cowboys and Redskins had violated,” he wrote. The league docked the two teams cap space for frontloading contracts in '10, an uncapped year. The union alleges that is evidence of collusion among the teams. The NFL denies there was collusion. U.S. District Court Judge David Doty has scheduled a Sept. 6 hearing.
The steroid era, as baseball has “learned anew this month, is more likely to be a permanent state of affairs than an ugly chapter that can be closed,” according to a front-page piece by Lynn Zinser of the N.Y. TIMES. MLB has seen two high-profile players -- A's P Bartolo Colon and Giants LF Melky Cabrera -- test positive for testosterone this month, and the league's testing program “now appears to serve less as a real solution and more as a vehicle for reminding everyone that drug use manages to endure, sowing mistrust, ruining careers and embarrassing the national pastime." MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in January '10 “felt emboldened enough to declare the essential end of steroid use in the sport.” However, five PED-related suspensions this season, along with the “uneasiness created” by the case against Brewers LF Ryan Braun, “has undermined Selig’s assertion.” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said MLB has "made great strides, compared to where they started in 2003." MLB Senior VP/PR Pat Courtney: “We’re upset any time a player tests positive. But it means we have a good testing program in place” (N.Y. TIMES, 8/24). ESPN’s Jayson Stark said of the testing program. “When you have two prominent players test positive in a week for something very similar ... it proves that testing works.” But it also means “you’ve clearly got a sport that isn’t 'clean.'” Stark: "People inside front offices seem very concerned that there’s more of this to come and that the use of synthetic testosterone might actually be widespread.” MLB has “tried to reassure clubs by saying they’re now doing secondary testing on any sample they believe is suspicious.” He added, "We’re a long ways from where we were at the height of the steroid era 10 years, even five years ago … and clearly they have addressed a lot of these problems. (But the) sport is not clean, the sport has a problem and will always have to work to combat that problem" (“First Take,” ESPN2, 8/23).
TIME TO UP THE ANTE: In Chicago, Phil Rogers noted MLB is “in the middle of an investigation that could lead to more violators and possibly arrests for some people who are helping players obtain steroids and use them to beat testing.” Rogers: “This may not be BALCO, circa 2003, but it’s a disappointing development to happen when so many people in baseball -- including the players and the post-Donald Fehr union leadership -- have worked so hard to even the playing field." MLB's “only remaining weapon would seem to be stepping up the discipline for players who test positive.” Rogers wrote, “Would players think twice if the first offense was 100 and the next a lifetime ban? Who knows?” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 8/22). CSNBAYAREA.com’s Ray Ratto wrote under the header, “MLB Drug Policy Fatally Flawed.” Drug testing will “work when players and teams fear the punishment more than crave the reward, and right now the punishments are insignificant in comparison to the rewards.” Ratto: “The notion of punishing organizations to negate the benefits of PEDs is never brought up. Ever” (CSNBAYAREA.com, 8/23).
LOOKING FOR A SILVER LINING: In Toronto, Richard Griffin writes the game "is not clean" and blood testing for HGH "has just been introduced, but it’s clear ... the look and feel of the game has changed since the union and ownership reached a mandatory testing agreement with attached punishments back in ‘05.” Would we “only be saying that baseball’s new drug testing policy is working if nobody was ever caught?” Or does the fact that Cabrera and Colon have both begun serving 50-game suspensions mean “that half the game is still dirty?” Griffin: “Cabrera and Colon will not be the last. It’s sad, but it means the game is moving in the right direction” (TORONTO STAR, 8/24). SI.com’s Jay Jaffe wrote MLB “has come a long way in its battle against performance-enhancing drugs.” However, the game “may not ever be able to eradicate them completely, because the temptation to cheat is older than the sport itself.” MLB’s drug-testing program “could stand adjustment,” but as the suspensions of Cabrera and Colon show, “the system is catching players who use PEDs” (SI.com, 8/22).
EPL clubs Manchester United and Manchester City "are on opposite sides of a new divide in the Premier League: whether the competition should introduce its own UEFA-style financial fair play regulations," according to Matt Scott of the London TELEGRAPH. At the league's annual meeting, the idea of "tighter financial controls being imposed on clubs was advanced by Liverpool" and "gained the support" of a number of its rivals, including ManU CEO David Gill. The delegation from Arsenal also is "believed to have spoken up in favour." Arsenal Owner Stan Kroenke, Liverpool Owner John Henry and ManU Owner the Glazer family are "familiar with restrictive financial regulations through the U.S. sports franchises they own." However, the subject "was not unanimously supported," as Man City officials are "believed to have cautioned that they would prefer to manage their business as they see fit." City Owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan "subsidised spending with [US$68.5M] in cash between June 1, 2009 and the end of May 2011." Fulham Owner Mohamed Al-Fayed financed the team's rise through the leagues with "soft" loans. Fulham has "also historically expressed the view that they would not endorse a system that 'kills the dreams' of others." EPL exec staff now has been "tasked with drawing up a report on what proposals could be introduced." One option would be "to adopt wholesale," the UEFA financial fair play regulations (London TELEGRAPH, 8/22).