The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
yesterday reversed a $30.3M judgement against the NFL, saying
"players cannot sue a league on antitrust grounds when their
union is engaged in collective bargaining, even if negotiations
have reached an impasse." In '90, the Bills' Tony Brown sued the
league on behalf of 235 other practice squad players -- winning a
$30.3M judgement two years later on the grounds that the league
had "violated antitrust law." Yesterday's decision "orders the
district court to dismiss the case against the league" (Dave
Sell, WASHINGTON POST, 3/22). The decision also "impacts" the
baseball situation since it would force the MLBPA to "decertify
before it could file suit" -- even if MLB's antitrust exemption
were removed. Judge Patricia Wald, who filed a 25-page
"dissenting opinion": "The majority insists its ruling does no
more than maintain a level playing field. The reality is that
[yesterday's] decision sharply tilts the playing field in
employers' favor and because of that will erode the vitality of
collective bargaining itself" (Ronald Blum, AP/FORT WORTH STAR
Labor talks between owners and players "remained at a
standstill yesterday," according to Mark Maske in today's
WASHINGTON POST. Acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and MLBPA
Exec Dir Don Fehr "ended two days of meetings in Washington
without scheduling any formal negotiating sessions." One
ownership source questioned Selig's resolve to get a deal and
that Selig's ties to White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf, the owners'
top hawk, are "stronger than ever." The source: "Don would like
to meet. I'm not sure (Selig is) ready. ... The real problem
isn't necessarily Fehr." On the players' side, sources indicated
that the union may consider ending the strike, which would force
the owners to vote on a lockout. But while one union source
called it a "real possibility," another said it was "not under
active consideration" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/22). AP cites sources
with knowledge of the meetings who report that Selig "talked
about raising their tax rates and thresholds, not lowering them
to move closer to the union." Some involved on the players' side
said that management officials had told them in recent days "that
owners want to test the union's resolve, hoping that players
would break ranks and cross" and that the owners "will attempt to
delay" the NLRB's decision on whether to seek an injunction
against the owners (AP/Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 3/22). ESPN's Keith
Olbermann: "Hopes rose, and were then dashed at the strike
talks." Olbermann reported that "key player reps" were told to
come to Washington for strike talks, but then were told "to
forget it" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/21).
"THIS THING MAY NOT BE OVER FOR A LONG, LONG TIME": ESPN's
Peter Gammons said "most of the optimism has dissipated" from
earlier this week, and, if possible, "more of a gulf" exists with
owners citing "economic poverty because so much income is being
drained out of the industry already." Gammons: "Both sides seem
to be focused on everything but a deal right now. ... Meanwhile,
too many owners are getting harder and harder, saying, 'We've
come too far not to try to win.' ... This thing may not be over
for a long, long time" ("SportsCenter, ESPN, 3/21). In
Philadelphia, Jayson Stark cites one "baseball man": "From what
I'm hearing, it could be an ugly April." If management is
successful in delaying the NLRB injunction process, "the earliest
an injunction would be issued is about two weeks into the regular
season" (PHILADELHIA INQUIRER, 3/22).
HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL: In New York, Tom Keegan predicts a
pre-Opening Day settlement: "Shame. That's the X-factor here.
As the season approaches and the owners stop to think of the
shame they are about to create, they will hammer out a deal that
smarts only a little" (N.Y. POST, 3/22).
BUD, BUD, HE'S OUR MAN: Mark Maske reports, "Indications
are that Selig may be closer than ever to accepting the
commissioner's job on a more permanent basis, although some
ownership representatives apparently believe he might have a
difficult time being approved once the longest and most
destructive work stoppage on professional sports history finally
is over" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/22).
"Cap dodging" in the NFL is the topic of a piece by Len
Pasquarelli in this morning's ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. Citing Deion
Sanders' recent deal with Sega -- which is reportedly dependent
on him staying in San Francisco -- Pasquarelli writes, "Short of
an in-depth investigation of a player's bank accounts and tax
records, any complicity between an NFL team and a friendly
corporate entity could be virtually impossible to substantiate."
The topic was also raised at last week's owners' meetings.
Saints Owner Thomas Benson: "You'd need the IRS and the FBI ...
and you still might not turn up anything concrete." Commissioner
Paul Tagliabue has scrutinized the 49ers/Sanders deal and found
it "to be above board": "Endorsement contracts for players have
been part of the game since Joe Namath arrived on the scene, if
not before that" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 3/22).
An arbitration case involving the "criteria used in
determining the average salary" was decided yesterday leaving the
NHL and the NHLPA "co-winners." Arbitrator George Nicolau ruled
the NHL can establish the methods for calculating the average
salary -- "a procedural win for the league." But the NHLPA also
"won" because marketing agreements between players and the league
will be included in the calculation (CP/OTTAWA CITIZEN, 3/22).