SBJ/20090525/Labor & Agents

Smith puts question of rookie scale back on owners’ doorstep

While there is growing pressure from the NFL, as well as some in the sports media, for the NFL Players Association to accept a rookie wage scale, new NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith questioned last week why the players were being asked about the issue when it was one created by the owners.

“The owners sign the checks,” Smith said, in a speech before the Sports Lawyers Association in Chicago last week. “The owners decide how much [players] are going to be paid. … I had a great time at the draft, looking at the war rooms and seeing how they were set up. I didn’t see a single player in the room.”

“So the critical question, it seems to me … is, ‘Why are you asking the players?’” Smith said, during a session that featured the executive directors and counsels of the four major sports unions.

MLB Players Association Executive Director Don Fehr, speaking immediately after Smith on the rookie wage scale issue, said, “One of the things you have to be wary of, when you talk about the issues that were just raised, is in collective bargaining generally, and sports is certainly no exception to this, very often people will look, on the other side, will look for wedge issues.”

Fehr said the “classic example of a wedge issue” is one in which one group in a union is told another group is getting too much money “and you should all go and squabble with one another.”

“Now I don’t know if that is involved in this circumstance here, but on this side of the table we are all very conscious of such issues and where the instigation of raising such an issue comes from. If it comes from the players’ side, you don’t have to worry about it, because it will come with a proposed solution.”

 ESCROW ISSUE IN NEXT NHL CBA?: NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Paul Kelly said the increased portion of NHL players’ paychecks that is being kept in escrow this season “is a matter of great concern” to union members, and may be an issue in the next CBA negotiations.

Paul Kelly
NHL Players’ Association

Because of the recession, players have had an average of 18 percent of their pay this season placed in escrow, the highest share since it was established under the current CBA, which ended the 2004-05 lockout. “It is certainly something they didn’t fully appreciate three or four years ago going into the current CBA and something we are going to have to deal with the league [on] as we approach the next one.”

“With rough numbers at this point, we believe that most NHL players will earn somewhere between 86 and 89 percent of their negotiated contracts,” Kelly said. “So, if you are a $1 million or $2 million [a year] player, you are taking a big hit.”

The final determination on the percentage for the 2008-09 season will be made in the fall, and players will receive checks in October.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly had a slightly different projection of the escrow percentage. “I think the average annual percentage rate that will be necessary to refund the owners is about 14 to 15 percent,” he said.

 WMG SIGNS TYLER: Wasserman Media Group has signed Jeremy Tyler, the 6-foot-11 high school junior who recently announced he will forgo his senior year of high school to play in Europe before pursuing an NBA career.

WMG agent B.J. Armstrong will lead the agency’s representation of Tyler. WMG will represent Tyler in talks with European clubs and potential sponsors, including shoe companies.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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