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SBD/September 26, 2012/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
The NFL and the NFL Referees Association "made enough progress" in negotiations for a new CBA last night that the "possibility of the locked-out officials returning in time to work this week's games has been discussed," according to sources cited by Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com. One source said that an "agreement in principle is at hand," although NFL owners have "postured with a 'no more compromise' stance." League sources previously have said that it "would take a week to get the locked-out officials on the field." However, the NFLRA indicated that its 121 referees "have been trained on the new rules implemented last season, have already passed physicals or are prepared to pass physicals immediately." Both sides have "made concessions on previous sticking points," including pension plans. One source said the last big hurdle is "about a little more money" (ESPN.com, 9/26). NFL.com's Albert Breer cites a source as saying that the NFL and NFLRA last night agreed to "create a developmental program as a compromise to the NFL's demand for the addition of 21 officials to the current contingent of 121 NFLRA members." The pool of money "for the existing officials also will remain the same." The developmental officials "will be mentored by the existing crews and will be assigned to work with them during the week." They will not "be NFLRA members, will not work games, and will not be eligible to be subbed in initially." As they improve and "reach the standards to be NFL officials, they will be considered for NFLRA membership" (NFL.com, 9/26). USA TODAY’s Mike Garafolo cites a source as saying that the league's “insistence on moving from a fixed-benefit pension plan to a 401 (k) type of model" had been the "biggest sticking point” (USA TODAY, 9/26).
MORE IDEOLOGICAL THAN FINANCIAL: The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Futterman & Clark cite an NFL owner as indicating that the disagreement with the referees “is more ideological than it is financial.” The owner indicated that the league's owners “would be much more willing to compromise if the referees were willing to become full-time employees” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/26). In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch notes the difference in money -- estimated “by some to be roughly $3 million, or about $100,000 per team -- remains a relative pittance in light of the NFL’s skyrocketing annual revenues, which were $9 billion last year and are predicted to double to $18 billion per year by 2017” (N.Y. POST, 9/26). In Milwaukee, Jim Stingl notes the NFLRA’s bargaining position “should get a boost from the fiasco that's been the first three weeks of the football season.” The job of an NFL official is “apparently every bit as hard as it looks” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/26).
PLAYING HARDBALL: ESPN.com’s Andrew Brandt wrote as much as owners "like to win on the field, they enjoy winning off it just as much.” As with the negotiations last year with the players, owners "don't ‘need’ a different kind of deal; they simply ‘want’ a better deal." Brandt: "They believe they can extract concessions because they have the leverage to do so” (ESPN.com, 9/25). In K.C., Randy Covitz wrote, “As long as stadiums are filled and television ratings are high, don't expect Goodell and the owners to budge very much” (K.C. STAR, 9/25).
OBSTACLES IN THE WAY OF A RETURN? Locked-out NFL referee Scott Helverson yesterday said that a “series of obstacles stand in the way of a speedy return for regular game-callers.” Helverson said, “Technically, we have to go to a clinic. We have to be given the new rules, we have to be given new rule books -- and new uniforms. Can we do that in two days, before Thursday? I don’t think so -- unless they change all those guidelines.” He added that union bylines “require all 121 members of his association to vote on a potential deal in person” (DESMOINESREGISTER.com, 9/25).
As much as Monday’s Packers-Seahawks game “would seem to have put a spotlight on the need for a settlement” of the NFL’s labor dispute with the NFL Referees Association, it “might actually have complicated matters" for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, according to a front-page piece by Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. Sources said that Goodell is “concerned about the mistakes being made game after game.” However, while Goodell is “the most powerful commissioner in American sports, he is ultimately answerable to the owners of 32 teams.” Even some owners acknowledge that Goodell "is in the difficult position of balancing the interests of his constituents.” Some owners “might dig in, fearful that if the NFL makes a deal in the coming days, it will appear that Goodell surrendered to public pressure.” But other owners “want a deal soon, because they are so troubled by the damage they believe is being done to the game by the botched calls.” A source said that owners were “dug in and resistant to more compromise.” Battista writes it is Goodell’s job "to maneuver between those disparate camps, while also taking the long view of the league’s future.” Owners fear if the league is seen as giving in, that “could change the dynamics of other negotiations in the future,” which ultimately could “jeopardize their winning streak in business matters” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26).
RESOLUTION NEEDED: In Hartford, Jeff Jacobs writes Goodell has “only one move now: Convince the owners to immediately end the lockout of the NFL officials.” Damage has “already been done,” and Goodell “will never fully recover from his miscalculation that he could slip even three weeks of scab officiating past football fans.” Jacobs: “Soon enough, the question will become can he recover at all? Moments define a man's career. And this one stands to define Goodell” (HARTFORD COURANT, 9/26). In Houston, Dale Robertson writes Goodell “serves at the behest of the league's owners, and the time has come for those gentlemen to step in, open their bulbous wallets and tell him, ‘Enough already!’” (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/26). In Newark, Steve Politi writes under the header, “Replace The Replacement Refs Now, Roger Goodell. The Integrity Of The Game Is At Stake” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/26). Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said of Goodell, "He’s got to get in there right now and take care of this thing. There’s no reason to dig your heels in on maybe what would cost each club $100,000. ... You are nickel and diming these guys” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/25). In N.Y., Steve Serby writes, “This one’s on you, commissioner. Get your billionaire owners to stop hiding behind the NFL shield over a mere pittance for the real refs in a league slated to take in $9.5 billion in revenues this season, a 7 percent increase over 2011. If there is a Hall of Fame of Pettiness, then all of you have earned busts” (N.Y. POST, 9/26).
TIME FOR GOODELL TO GO: SPORTING NEWS' David Steele wrote under the header, “NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Must Go -- Now.” Goodell is “the walking definition of ‘conduct detrimental to the game.’” If he were a player “conducting his business the way he has lately, he’d be sitting out half the season.” The integrity of the NFL is “not being questioned, not being doubted, but is being openly disregarded.” The NBA, NHL and MLB “haven’t been dragged through the mud the way the NFL is now.” The referee “debacle is merely the last straw.” It “landed like a fallen space satellite on top of this pile” of issues, including the player lockout last summer, the push for an 18-game season, the Saints' bounty scandal and the player-safety crisis. Steele: “Put it all together, and that is one singularly rotten way to run a league” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 9/25). In Tacoma, Dave Boling writes Goodell has “failed the nation of fans by having been unable to generate the leadership force to get the labor dispute solved before it began tarnishing the image of the league and reducing a proud product into a laughable satire” (Tacoma NEWS-TRIBUNE, 9/26). But ESPN's Dan Le Batard said, "You don't fire him. If you’re the owners, he’s taking all the heat for what they want here." Goodell is the "punching bag," and he is the person "getting killed publicly." Le Batard: "You leave him out there to be the piñata if you’re the owners. ... This is where he earns that salary because he’s being paid to go and be the receptacle for all those bad feelings, and owners are hiding behind him on this one. This is the tough part of his job, to be the face of this issue, because we’re not yelling at the owners" ("Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 9/25).
OWNERS ANSWERABLE: In St. Louis, Bernie Miklasz writes a lot of people currently "are ripping” Goodell, “as they should.” Miklasz: “But I’m more disgusted by the NFL owners. Goodell works for them. He’s their employee. He has been granted a large measure of independence to exercise his authority in a bold manner. But if the owners wanted to settle this irresponsible and embarrassing lockout of the NFL’s real officials, it would be done.” Goodell will make a deal with locked-out referees “when the owners insist on it” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/26). In N.Y., Gary Myers writes if Goodell and the owners "were waiting for the officials to finally blow a game before they felt a sense of urgency, well, fellas, the time has arrived.” Giants President & CEO John Mara “needs to step up and force the issue.” Myers: “If the events of Monday night in Seattle don’t convince Goodell and the owners to bring sanity back to the game, then they will just reemphasize all they care about is making more money and all his talk about protecting the shield and the integrity of the game is nothing more than commissionerspeak” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/26).
BUSINESS MODEL STILL DOING WELL: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes the reason NFL owners are “willing to damage the integrity of their product is because they know they're not damaging the integrity of their business.” The owners run “the most-watched league in this country -- nothing else is even close -- and they know that even a little unfairness isn't going to change that.” If anything, the “officiating controversies in the season's first three weeks have helped them” (L.A. TIMES, 9/26). In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell writes the owners “know they can't be touched” and they know that “the stands are going to still be filled, that the TV ratings will continue to outdistance every other sport each weekend and you will flood into their football palaces every Sunday and spend your disposable income on their overpriced concessions and team apparel” (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 9/26). ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano wrote the owners “don't care how ridiculous the proliferation their lockout of the officials makes them or their league look, because people are still talking about and watching the games” (ESPN.com, 9/25). In Baltimore, Kevin Cowherd wrote at NFL HQ in N.Y., it is “business as usual.” Cowherd: “The games are exciting, the stands are packed, TV ratings are great, so what's the big deal?” (BALTIMORESUN.com, 9/25). In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde writes the NFL “only cares about the answer to these questions: Are people still watching? Have we lost any money? Answers: Yes and no.” There will be “a point of diminished returns.” Hyde: “But we're not there yet” (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 9/26).
FANS CAN'T QUIT THE NFL: In Minneapolis, Patrick Reusse writes under the header, “Despite NFL’s Flaws, We Cannot Look Away.” Reusse: “The NFL knows your threats to stop watching, attending and Fantasizing are hollow. It will remain the most watched, most profitable and most cynical league in the history of American sports” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 9/26). In Detroit, Drew Sharp writes the owners are “popping champagne corks in their Fifth Avenue penthouse suites because they know they’re dealing with an audience that can’t walk away from its weekly football fix” (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 9/26). In Boston, Steve Buckley writes, “As for all the 'bad publicity' the NFL is getting, so what? Is anybody talking any baseball these days on a national scale?” Buckley: “All anyone is talking about these days is football" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/26).
The fallout from the Packers-Seahawks "MNF" game continues today, and THE DAILY offers a roundup of columnists and other members of the media opining on the referee controversy. In Denver, Troy Renck writes locking out the officials has “tarnished the NFL's brand, creating a product that can't be trusted.” The NFL has “become a punch line,” and it is up to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "to persuade the owners to compromise and settle” (DENVER POST, 9/26). In Philadelphia, Phil Sheridan writes Goodell’s decision to lock out the officials and play games with "crews of unqualified replacements, has damaged the league's integrity more than anything Sean Payton, Jonathan Vilma or anyone else Goodell has hammered with his iron fist” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/26). Syndicated radio host Jim Rome said, "The NFL’s credibility has been shot. The brand has been damaged" ("The Jim Rome Show," 9/25). In DC, Deron Snyder writes if the league “doesn’t realize this is a crisis situation, it’s even dumber than we thought in letting the situation get this far.” The NFL is “bleeding out, losing more integrity and credibility each week.” The league has “become a joke, but it’s no laughing matter” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/26). In Providence, Bill Reynolds writes what “matters is that this is all anyone is talking about.” The NFL, the “most popular league in the country, is turning into a joke” (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 9/26). In New Jersey, Art Stapleton writes under the header, “NFL Is A Joke -- And That’s Not Funny” (Bergen RECORD, 9/26).
BAD FOR BUSINESS: YAHOO SPORTS’ Michael Silver wrote the “regrettable Monday Night Mistake has the potential to stand as a seminal moment, a bullet that could penetrate the NFL's Kevlar vest of invulnerability” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/25). USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell writes the “whole thing is bad business.” The integrity of the game “has been sucker-punched again, and even harder.” This is “worse than the comedic blunders we’ve seen.” The game’s “essence, the purity of competition on the field, has been compromised -- and that’s an outrage” (USA TODAY, 9/26). In Milwaukee, Tyler Dunne writes the replacement refs in three weeks have “sucker punched the competitive balance of the NFL” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/26). NBC's Bob Costas said there has been "plenty" of damage done to the league. Costas: "If this goes on much longer, it’s going to affect playoff races and whatnot. It hurts a lot" ("Today," NBC, 9/26). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "They are hurting their product. They’re screaming about integrity when it comes to a player pulling up his socks, but they are too lame and not men enough to deal with what everybody in the country is seeing and angry about” ("PTI," ESPN, 9/25). In Phoenix, Dan Bickley writes the league “must bend on this issue, making key and very public concessions to locked-out officials.” It otherwise risks "irreparably damaging the entire season, making sponsors as unhappy as the disgruntled fans” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 9/26). In Detroit, Bob Wojnowski writes the NFL and Goodell “gambled with the integrity of a wildly popular sport and lost in humiliating fashion, and now need to admit it and rectify it” (DETROIT NEWS, 9/26). In N.Y., Mike Lupica notes the longer NFL owners go with replacement officials working games, the “worse they look, the more they make a mockery of a $9 billion-a-year sport, continuing to lock out their regular officials over what amounts to tipping money.” Now it is the “job of the commissioner … to get his owners out of this, to admit they made a mistake and correct that mistake, stop allowing these refs to do as much damage to NFL games as the league has done to itself so far this season” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/26).
MAKING HEADLINES: In DC, Sally Jenkins writes under the header, “NFL Replacement Refs’ Incompetence Solely The Fault Of The League” (WASHINGTON POST, 9/26). In K.C., Sam Mellinger writes under the header, “NFL Commissioner’s Handling Of Ref Dispute Insults Fans” (K.C.STAR, 9/26). The GUARDIAN’s Harry Enten wrote under the header, “Replacement Referees Blew The Packers-Seahawks Call But It’s The NFL That Sucks” (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 9/25). In Cleveland, Terry Pluto wrote under the header, “NFL’s Roger Goodell Should Apologize For Handling Of Officials Labor Dispute” (CLEVELAND.com, 9/25). In Philadelphia, Frank Fitzpatrick writes under the header, “Replacement Refs Are NFL’s Worst-Case Nightmare” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/26).
TAKE YOUR WORD FOR IT: In Seattle, Steve Kelley writes under the header, “NFL’s Hypocrisy Proves Integrity Of Game Isn’t Its Motive.” The NFL “says it cares about the integrity of the game, but it doesn't.” If the NFL, its owners and officers, really “cared about the games and the players who compete in them, it would have settled this lockout with officials before the season began” (SEATTLE TIMES, 9/26). On Long Island, Bob Glauber notes Goodell “often invokes” the saying "Protect the shield." But by “failing to resolve its financial differences with the NFL Referees Association and therefore failing to put out the best quality officials, the league is violating its own credo” (NEWSDAY, 9/26). SI.com’s Don Banks wrote, “How can commissioner Goodell and the rest of the NFL hierarchy ever again trot out that ‘protect the shield’ stuff with a straight face? If we're talking about the all-important integrity of the game, it starts with the on-field product and convincing fans that a game's final outcome is just and fair -- at least as much as is humanly possible.” But after this “self-inflicted wound by the NFL, Goodell's mantra is going to ring hollow for a very long time” (SI.com, 9/25). NBC's Costas said, "There’s a contradiction here. Here is a league that examines replays from eight different angles on relatively inconsequential plays because it says that it wants to get everything right down to the last detail. Here is a league that has pledged its concern about player safety. The replacement officials put both of those objectives at serious risk” ("Today," NBC, 9/26). In Green Bay, Mike Vandermause writes the NFL “likes to blow smoke when it talks up the integrity of the game, yet has allowed its product to degenerate to a laughable level.” In the interest of “saving a few million dollars in its spat with locked out regular officials, the NFL is losing credibility fast.” The problem is Goodell and the NFL owners “don’t seem to care” (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 9/26).
TUNE OUT: ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert wrote the NFL “repeatedly has played us for fools over the past two months.” Seifert: “Did you expect that to change with Tuesday's response to the final play of the Green Bay Packers' 14-12 loss to the Seattle Seahawks?” Instead of “fully owning up to an inexcusable series of events, the league admitted one mistake and took an end-around to avoid the other.”The NFL’s response “reads more like an explanation for any other run-of-the-mill controversy we've seen over the years” (ESPN.com, 9/25). HUFFINGTON POST’s Gavin Shulman wrote if fans “really want something to be done about the replacement refs we’re going to have to speak up.” Shulman: “We're gonna have to tune out. … The games are terrible. It's not fun to watch. It's not fun to be a fan. And there's only one thing in our power to change that. Turning it off” (HUFFINGTONPOST.com, 9/25).
FROM THE OPINION PAGES: A USA TODAY editorial states the “cost of any settlement will pale in comparison with the damage to the NFL's brand if the replacement ref fiasco continues.” The NFL at this point “resembles other exceptionally successful businesses that became so arrogant, they were blind to peril.” The editorial: “Other than game-fixing by gamblers, it's hard to imagine a bigger threat to the integrity of its game than outcomes dictated by incompetent referees” (USA TODAY, 9/26). A SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS editorial states the NFL is “destroying its brand" with the referee lockout. NFL owners and the league's management “believe that holding the line on referee salaries and benefits is in their long-term financial interests.” Whatever “slight improvement to their balance sheets the lockout is intended to achieve is more than outweighed by the immediate damage to the league's integrity” (SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, 9/26). A N.Y. TIMES editorial asks, “Does Roger Goodell really want his legacy as commissioner of the National Football League to be that he allowed a hugely popular and profitable sport to become a laughingstock? Obviously not. Then why isn’t he orchestrating a rapid settlement in the dispute between team owners and the league’s regular referees over paychecks and pensions?” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26).
REFS DESERVE BLAME AS WELL: ESPN.com’s Ashley Fox wrote the locked-out refs are “a party to this dispute,” and it is “unrealistic for them to expect the NFL to continue a benefit for part-time employees that it no longer provides for many full-time employees.” Fox: “You can say the league … is being greedy, but so, too, are the referees.” The “major sticking point” in talks is the pension. The officials “need to do what so many other employees of the league and its 32 teams have done, and let this one go.” They need to “accept responsibility for their role in this debacle.” They can “come back, if they can find a reasonable middle ground” (ESPN.com, 9/25).
ADDITIONAL CONSEQUENCE: In S.F., Bruce Jenkins writes what is worse than the replacement officials is the “specter of organized crime.” That is why the NFL “needs to settle the contract dispute with its referees, right now, before it loses all credibility.” It “doesn't matter if there hasn't been a single conversation between these phony officials and the mob, or any attempt to throw a game.” It is “in the conversation now.” The officiating has been “so inconceivably bad, you really wonder if some of these guys are on the take” (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/26).
Packers G T.J. Lang believes that public opinion “can change if more players speak out” about the impact replacement refs are having on the game, according to Tyler Dunne of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. Dunne notes even as the "gaffes by the replacements continue, fans probably will continue to pump millions of dollars into the NFL." Lang said that he “doesn’t want players to hold back any longer.” Lang: “We've gotten to a point where if we don't take a stand, nothing's going to happen. We'd just be letting these refs ruin games. The NFL doesn't give a crap. They're still making money. People are still coming to the games.” He added, “There needs to be more players who speak out to really put pressure on the NFL to try to get something done” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 9/26). Ravens S Ed Reed said, “It's an integrity part about the game that they expect the players to uphold, protect the shield like they always tell us, but they don't protect the shield when it comes to the owners and everybody else getting money” (Baltimore SUN, 9/26). Browns WR Josh Cribbs: “I feel like they’re just covering up for the refs. I feel like the NFL is messing up the integrity of the game.” Browns OT Joe Thomas: “It’s a dark shadow over the NFL. It’s a shame. People should be talking about the players but instead everyone is talking about the officials” (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 9/26). Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald: “My main concern is protecting the integrity of the game. The reason fans watch our game in such high numbers is that they can always count on fair, competitive physical play every single week. That is what makes it exciting and that's what makes them view.” He added, “It is what keeps the fans coming back so you have to protect that, it is important they believe in what they are seeing in the stadiums and on their televisions. The NFL has some work to do to get that fixed. I just hope it can be done soon” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/25). Packers G Josh Sitton: "It’s hard to blame them entirely because they shouldn’t be out there. We’ve got to blame the NFL and blame the owners for not getting the real refs out there" ("The Jim Rome Show," 9/25).
WORRIES EXIST ON BOTH SIDES: Giants DE Justin Tuck said every player in the NFL "worries about" the referee situation. Tuck: "I know players are on eggshells and the replacement referees are on eggshells because they know that everything that they say, whether it's right or wrong, is going to be scrutinized. I look at it as a lose-lose situation” (NEWSDAY, 9/26). Redskins CB Josh Wilson, referencing the end of his team’s game Sunday against the Bengals, said, “I don’t understand the calls. I don’t really know what to do anymore. It makes it hard to be able to perform at a high level when you don’t know what’s legal, what’s illegal. I don’t know any more. It’s confusing” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/25). Patriots QB Tom Brady: “I see more pileups and punching and all that crap that goes on before and after plays, and pileups and stuff like that then there would probably normally be, and maybe guys are taking advantage a bit of the guys. From my standpoint, for me it's been business as usual” (ESPNBOSTON.com, 9/25).
SMITH SPEAKS OUT: NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith addressed the referee situation on "CBS This Morning" today and said it primarily is a "health and safety issue" for the union. Smith: "We’re a group of players who have an extremely short playing career, about 3.5 years on average, and we’re an industry where our injury rate is 100% on the workplace. So the way we look at this issue is a little bit beyond just a bad call on a Monday night. The referees on the field are the first responders for health and safety for a group of players where we know that virtually every player in the National Football League will be injured at work.” He noted there are plenty of owners who "believe that it’s important for our players to work safer." Smith: "Where we are right now is inconsistent with that. When you take a group of officials who have a collective experience of 1,500 years off the field and you replace them with a group of replacements that don’t have that experience, our players know that the work place today is less safe than it was with the real officials.” However, he adamantly said he would not advise players to sit out games until the league signs a new CBA with the refs. Smith: "I’m not sure that it’s ever a good idea to punish our fans because we’re mad at the owners. What we are going to do is make sure that the NFL honors its obligation and keep the workplace safe. We’ll take every legal action that we can and what we need” ("CBS This Morning," CBS, 9/26).
BI-PARTISAN EFFORT: USA TODAY's Gary Mihoces reports politicians across the land "have joined in chorus to call for an end to the NFL lockout of its regular officials." President Obama yesterday said, "I've been saying for months we've got to get our refs back." Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan, who is from Wisconsin, "lamented the controversial touchdown call" during Packers-Seahawks. Ryan during a campaign stop in Ohio said, "Did you guys watch the game last night? I mean, give me a break. It's time to get the real refs back" (USA TODAY, 9/26). White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama watched Monday's game and Obama "thinks there was a real problem" with the call at the end of the game. Mitt Romney said, "I sure would like to see some experienced referees, with NFL experience, come back on to the NFL playing fields" (AP, 9/26). Former President Bill Clinton: "We need to get the strike over and get more experienced people in there" (NYTIMES.com, 9/25). Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt "lodged a complaint" with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell over the Packers' "controversial loss" (GREENBAYPRESSGAZETTE.com, 9/25).
CALLS FLOOD LEAGUE OFFICE: In Tacoma, Adam Lynn reports "more than 70,000 voice mails about the game were left at NFL headquarters Tuesday." Most of them were "presumably calling for the league to settle its differences with its locked-out referees and send the replacement refs who've overseen the first three weeks of the season to the showers" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 9/26).
The NFL in court documents filed yesterday portrayed the salary cap hits to the Redskins and Cowboys as a relatively recent development, and not one tied to an alleged “secret” salary cap from '10. The NFLPA is suing the NFL for allegedly colluding to restrain salaries in '10, when there was no salary cap. The NFL docked the two teams salary space earlier this year, saying they had frontloaded contracts that year. But Peter Ruocco, who has managed the cap for the NFL since '94, in a declaration said that he started his analysis only earlier this year. He added that the salary cap reallocation was done not to punish the two teams for their actions in '10 but to ensure competitive balance. His declaration had the NFL confirming for the first time publicaly the '12 salary cap would have been lower than the current $120.6M level had the union not agreed to the reductions for the Cowboys and Redskins. He said the union "agreed to our reallocation proposal in exchange for our commitment to raise the salary cap for the 2012 league year above the amount called for by the new CBA (along with related agreements regarding calculations of the salary cap in future league years)." The declaration does not elaborate on what Ruocco means by the last part, but sources have said the cap will not rise as high as it may have in future years to reflect the artificial bump this year. The NFL also in an accompanying motion repeated its contentions that the collusion charge is barred by the current CBA and the dismissal of the antitrust lawsuit brought by Patriots QB Tom Brady and the resolution of previous legal settlement that had once governed labor relations between the two sides. In addition, the motion notes that 23 of the 32 teams spent more than the $123M per club that the NFLPA alleges was the secret cap level.
NHL execs and NHLPA reps, who "haven't sat down for a full bargaining session in two weeks, are scheduled to meet Friday in New York to discuss what is being called 'non-core economic issues,'" according to Helene Elliot of the L.A. TIMES. The two sides are "still unable to resolve the central dispute over the division of hockey-related revenues but will try to nibble around the edges and gain some traction on other issues." Those issues are "expected to include pensions, medical plans, drug testing, scheduling ... and the grievance process." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that specific issues "will include grievance arbitration, system arbitration, off-ice discipline, drug testing, ice conditions and workers compensation insurance." It also is "likely that the NHL will cancel another round of exhibition games before the two sides meet" (LATIMES.com, 9/25). The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle writes, "You can’t really separate the various negotiating points from one another into separate boxes and say 'let’s talk about the economic issues and nothing else until that’s solved.'" Everything is "tied together in this fight." If the players "give on the percentages, shouldn’t that then mean they get some sort of concession on another issue?" The two sides are "not going to get any closer to solving some of those issues by ignoring them for months on end" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/26). Flyers RW Danny Briere yesterday said of previous reports that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will cancel the Winter Classic, "Maybe if he spent less time worrying about who has the upper hand and maybe more time negotiating with the players, maybe more things would get done." He added, "Until there are more owners involved, I don't think it will get anywhere" (PHILLY.com, 9/25).
AT LEAST ONE PAY DAY COMING: USA TODAY's Allen & Brehm note NHLers "will have cash flow in October because the league will return most, if not all, of each player's escrow payments from last season." Players had 8.5% of their salaries "withheld last season in case players earned more than their allotted 57% of revenue." The refund "could arrive around the time that players miss their first paycheck." A player making $1M "will lose about $77,000 per paycheck, starting in the middle of October" (USA TODAY, 9/26).
FRANCHISE UPDATES: In St. Louis, Tim Logan reported Blues COO Bruce Affleck yesterday confirmed that the team "last week laid off 'just under 20' front-office workers." The remaining 75 employees "took pay cuts, and in some cases, switched to four-day work weeks." Affleck said that some of the laid-off workers "will likely be brought back if and when hockey season begins ... though some layoffs will be permanent, a decision of the team's new owners." He said that the layoffs were "across a variety of departments in the team and Scottrade Center" (STLTODAY.com, 9/25). Meanwhile, in Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis noted the Panthers in a letter to season-ticket holders outlined "three choices" for their lockout policy that are "clearly designed to discourage fans from asking for refunds." Those who "want their money refunded must wait for it until the NHL announces cancelation of the entire season." Those who "ask for money back for games that aren't played forfeit their advantages as recurring season-ticket holders." It is "being regarded as a slap in the face by an organization that has a knack for awkward customer relations" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 9/25).
EVENTS SCHEDULED TO GO ON: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside noted a "5-on-5 event, dubbed La Tournée des Joueurs or The Players' Tour, will begin Thursday in the Montreal suburb of Chateauguay and is the brainchild of" Flyers C Max Talbot and D Bruno Gervais, both of whom "are from the area." Talbot "estimates about 1,300 fans will pay $20 each to attend the game." Plans call for "future games to be held in larger facilities, likely major junior rinks, all across Quebec" (ESPN.com, 9/25). In Raleigh, Chip Alexander noted the Hurricanes' 13th annual Caniac Carnival "will be held Sunday at PNC Arena." However, unlike other years, Hurricanes players "will not be signing autographs this year because of the NHL lockout and postponement of training camp" (NEWSOBSERVER.com, 9/25).
LEAVING ON A JET PLANE: The Russian Major Hockey League, a "farm league for KHL clubs," yesterday announced that Capitals LW Alexander Semin "agreed on a contract to play for Sokol, a team based in his home town." YAHOO SPORTS' Dmitry Chesnokov noted Semin will "play for the club virtually for free," and team sponsors "will pay premiums to insure Semin's NHL contract" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/25). In DC, Katie Carrera noted Capitals C Brooks Laich has "agreed to join" the Swiss National League A's Kloten Flyers. Laich's agent, Roland Thompson, said that a contract "has not yet been finalized but that one should be completed by the end of the week." He said that Laich "left for Switzerland on Monday night" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/25). Hockey player agent Peter Wallen said that his client, Lightning D Victor Hedman, "signed a contract with" the KHL team Barys Astana and "will report Friday" (TAMPABAY.com, 9/25). In Ft. Lauderdale, Harvey Fialkov noted unsigned Panthers D Dmitry Kulikov "has signed to play with Russia's elite team -- Yaroslavl Lokomotiv." In addition, Panthers LW Sean Bergenheim "left for his homeland in Finland to play for HIMK for the SM-Liiga league" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 9/25). In Boston, Stephen Harris writes under the header, "European Leagues Are Quality Options" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/26).
The Lucas Oil Motocross series saw both spectator attendance and TV viewership increase for its '12 season, which ended Sept. 9. Total attendance was 249,000, up 5% from 236,530 in '11. NBC Sports Network averaged 156,000 viewers over 17 live race broadcasts, up 15% from an average of 136,000 viewers per show last year. Fuel TV, which showed 12 race broadcasts, averaged 98,000 viewers, which was up 51% from the 50,000 viewers it averaged in '11. In addition to seeing increases in spectators and viewers, the series saw its total page views rise 41% to 5.1 million.