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Volume 24 No. 158

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed hope yesterday that collective bargaining negotiations could begin before next month’s Draft, something that is only likely, however, if the NFLPA faced significant setbacks. The class counsel for the players suing the NFL for antitrust violations, who also are the outside counsel to the NFLPA, have offered to talk to the league about settling the lawsuit. As the NFLPA has professed not to be a union, it cannot engage in collective bargaining. The league has rejected the offer to talk only to class counsel. So for collective bargaining to occur as Goodell hopes, the league would first have to fend off a move by the players suing the league to lift the lockout that has been in place since March 12. A federal court will hear arguments on the matter April 6 and is expected to decide within a few weeks after that. Whether a loss in federal court would be enough to force the players to re-certify though is entirely unclear. Thinking within league circles is a loss at the federal court would be a psychological blow to the players because the lockout would thus last far longer than they may have realized. “There will hopefully be negotiations before the Draft,” Goodell said. “It would be terrific if we could sit down and work towards an agreement before the Draft. We’ll have to wait and see on the litigation steps and see what the courts determine.” While the league feels confident about its legal position, the NFL has also lost on many occasions in the federal court in Minnesota.

NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT: Goodell, speaking at the end of the owners annual meeting, ruled out using replacement players if games are lost, and he strongly suggested the last offer to the players might not ever come back because of mounting economic losses caused by the lockout. “I’ve said very clearly that the proposal we gave them specifically identifies this to avoid a work stoppage,” he said. “Every day that goes by makes it harder and harder to keep the elements in that proposal and so that’s another reason for urgency and to get back to negotiations" (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal). In Boston, Ian Rapoport notes Goodell has not spoken with NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith since the lockout began more than two weeks ago, but he indicated yesterday that the league's "final offer could get progressively worse if the impasse lingers" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/23). NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported there are "no talks scheduled right now between the NFL and NFLPA," and "no mediation sessions scheduled." La Canfora: "The reality is we could be looking at months more of a legal battle beginning with the hearing in Minnesota April 6th with some appeals to follow. I don't anticipate either side getting back to the negotiating table before April 6th" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 3/22). ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the NFL is "prepared to file right then and there for a stay" if District Judge Susan Nelson rules against the NFL on April 6. Schefter: "If it gets the stay that it wants then obviously, everybody would have to wait for the appeal court in St. Louis to hear this case, and that could be another 45-60 days before anything happens." He said of the owners meeting, "There are people who are at this meeting who do believe that the season is in peril" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/22).

CAN'T TOUCH THIS: Goodell yesterday revealed that he "fined five teams, including the Miami Dolphins, for improper offseason contact with players before the lockout began March 12." USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell notes the since-expired CBA states that "teams were prevented from engaging with players in organized workouts, practices or meetings during an early offseason window that extends from the end of the season until the start of the offseason program in mid-March." Goodell also indicated that "locked-out players would still be subject to discipline under terms of the NFL's personal-conduct policy." The discipline "can't be imposed until the labor dispute is settled, but Goodell said that if violations occurred during the lockout, he wouldn't ignore them" (USA TODAY, 3/23). NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash said, "The commissioner sort of rather strongly suggested that one team in South Florida might have crossed the line" (PALM BEACH POST, 3/23). Meanwhile, the NFL would not confirm that the Browns were "one of five teams fined for violating league rules by meeting with players prior to the lockout." The club has acknowledged that new coach Pat Shurmur gave QB Colt McCoy "a copy of his playbook, but the rules do not specify that as a violation" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 3/23).

Goodell says teams will be able to fly
draftees in for introductory press conferences
BEGINNER'S (BAD) LUCK? Goodell during his press conference yesterday also addressed the NFLPA "staging an alternative draft event in protest of the lockout." Goodell said, "I hope that the players are not put in the predicament of having to make that determination. It’s a great opportunity for them and their families and I hope they get the chance to enjoy it" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/23). Goodell also reiterated yesterday that teams "will be able to fly draftees to their cities for press conferences next month during the April 28-30 draft, but they won't be able to give those draftees playbooks or have any other contact, assuming the league's labor lockout remains in place" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 3/23).

FULL NELSON: YAHOO SPORTS' Jason Cole wrote Nelson is the "only hope for a quick resolution to the labor dispute between the players and the owners." Nelson could "declare that the lockout by owners is illegal, that the NFL Players Association is not a union and then hold her decision in abeyance for 90 days." That would mean the league "wouldn’t have very strong grounds to fight her decision in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals," and also that the players "wouldn’t have the ability to get new contracts signed until July, hurting their chances to get rich deals in free agency." Under the possible ruling, "both sides would have plenty of incentive to work out" a new CBA. Cole added, "What needs to happen is for owners such as Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, Art Rooney II and John Mara to get in a room with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Vincent Jackson and Mike Vrabel and discuss their differences. The owners need to hear that the players feel disrespected. The players need to hear that the owners have serious financial concerns. ... Do that, and many of the other issues in this problem could fade away" (, 3/22).

A LOOK AT THE PR BATTLE:'s Jemele Hill wrote NFL players "have lost ground in recent days with childish retorts." The players seem to be in a "position of strength in terms of public perception because they have more avenues than ever to get their message across to the fans." But the "downside is that there are also more opportunities for the players to screw up and undermine their unified message." Hill: "The NFLPA came into these labor negotiations with an opportunity to be the outright winner in the battle of public perception. But the players have lost their leverage. Even worse, they have wasted their chance to find some common ground with many of their fans" (, 3/22). In West Palm Beach, Frank Cerabino writes, "It's hard to root for the labor gripes of millionaire pro football players. But it is possible, especially once their billionaire owners start talking." Cerabino writes it is a "real struggle to feel sorry for a union-bashing NFL owner" like the Dolphins' Stephen Ross, who earlier this week spoke out against unions (PALM BEACH POST, 3/23).

RULE CHANGES: In Boston, Greg Bedard notes the NFL yesterday changed the rules for kickoffs as part of an effort to "reduce injuries on one of the most dangerous plays in the game." Kickoffs now will take place at the 35-yard line instead of the 30, which the league believes will increase the likelihood of a touchback by 5-15%. Bedard notes one reason the NFL "must be proactive against injuries is to protect itself monetarily." The league is "trying to fend off a class-action lawsuit, Brady v. NFL, in regards" to the CBA, and it "may soon find itself the defendant in one or more class-action lawsuits for failure to protect players against injuries." Two groups of lawyers reportedly have been "preparing suits on behalf of recent players, and they could be filed by summer." NFLPA sources indicated that the "threat of such suits is an underlying reason why the league is playing hardball on the new CBA." The sources feel that the league is "trying to grab as much money as it can before these and other cases are tried, with the potential of damage awards in the hundred of millions of dollars" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/23). In N.Y., Judy Battista notes the NFL also declared that "all playing fields will remain a league-approved shade of green -- no Boise State blue -- an attempt to keep teams from trying to change the color of the field at a sponsor’s request" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/23).

With the uncertainty around the upcoming NFL season, the CFL "should benefit from hopeful rookies looking for work," according to Chris Zelkovich of the TORONTO STAR. Toronto Argonauts GM & coach Jim Barker: "Where we'll see a difference is after the NFL draft. Undrafted players won't be signed and a lot of them normally would try to sign with NFL teams. A borderline player who might have signed with an NFL team might decide to sign here so he can play. There should be a better pool to choose from, no doubt." Some NFL veteran free agents also are "considering heading north," but CFL officials are not expecting that to happen. CFL teams "won't sign players under contract to NFL teams." Also, with a minimum two-year contract, "players now have to spend the full two seasons in the CFL." Hamilton Tiger-Cats GM Bob O'Billovich: "Those kind of guys, you wonder if they know the situation. They might think they can come up here, play part of a season and then go back. They can't." Zelkovich notes when the "window closed for CFL players to exercise their options and sign with NFL teams" during the offseason, "only eight chose to cast their lot south of the border," down from 18 CFL players who signed with NFL teams last year. The "big difference was that NFL teams, fearful of a lost season, weren't offering signing bonuses," which meant CFL players "faced the prospect of a season without pay." Barker: "Without upfront money it was nowhere near as attractive to players" (TORONTO STAR, 3/23).

STRIKE WHILE THE IRON'S HOT: In Las Vegas, Ron Kantowski noted the UFL can "provide alternative pro football programming if the networks think they'll be needing it" this fall. UFL Commissioner Michael Huyghue said that the "money being discussed won't erase what the UFL owes," but "from an exposure standpoint, replacing the NFL on one or more Sundays would be more valuable" than signing former NFL coaches such as new Hartford Colonials coach Jerry Glanville. Huyghue: "I think one of the (potential) revenue streams has to start hitting or it will be difficult to continue. I'd love for them (NFL) to get back ... just not right away" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 3/22).

NASCAR returns to Auto Club Speedway this weekend "amid signs its popularity is stabilizing," according to Jim Peltz of the L.A. TIMES. NASCAR "still enjoys a huge audience," and Dodge President & CEO Ralph Gilles said "a lot of sports would kill for its kind of viewership." But the "challenge is getting more people ... to give NASCAR a look and keeping their interest." Achieving that goal "boils down to two things, those involved in the sport said: consistently exciting races and a greater show of personality by the drivers." When the sport was "surging in popularity, too many NASCAR drivers became bland and politically correct, their rough-and-tumble ways curbed by NASCAR and its influx of sponsors with corporate images to protect." There also is the "notion that technology has left the nation with a shorter attention span and perhaps NASCAR should shorten its races." But ESPN VP/Programming & Acquisitions Julie Sobieski "isn't sure shortening ... races would attract more viewers." Sobieski: "We don't see a direct correlation to shortening the races and the ratings going up." NASCAR driver and team owner Michael Waltrip said that shortening races also "could hurt NASCAR by alienating some fans who drive long distances and spend hefty sums to attend races and don't want the events cut short." Waltrip: "Their attention span is fine. We have to take care of those people." Team owner Rick Hendrick said that NASCAR "must find new ways to attract increasingly distracted fans." Hendrick: "There's too much stuff going on. The world's changed" (L.A. TIMES, 3/23). Meanwhile, Peltz yesterday noted NASCAR "has a 10-month, 36-race season, and it's too early to predict a rebound this year." The weak economy and soaring gasoline prices "still weigh on attendance even if the recession is officially over," and sponsorships "remain a tough sell" (L.A. TIMES, 3/22).

BRISTOL A CONCERN:'s David Newton wrote the "number of empty seats" at last weekend's Sprint Cup Series Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (BMS), which a "few years ago was the toughest ticket in NASCAR, raised huge red flags." Official attendance figures indicated 120,000 fans were in attendance at the 160,000-seat track, but the stands "appeared not much more than half full." BMS in '09 "celebrated 55 consecutive sellouts dating to August 1982." The BMS Facebook site suggests many fans are "turned off by the two- and three-wide racing we've seen since the track was repaved and reconfigured from a one-groove track in 2007." Gas prices "approaching $4 a gallon had to have an impact," and "absurd hotel prices also are a problem." Ticket prices "were a factor for some," as one fan said that he "could get seats at Martinsville Speedway for nearly half of what Bristol was asking." Then there is the "market saturation." One fan indicated that some are "opting to attend the first Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway on July 9 instead because it's a shorter drive" (, 3/21). YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee wrote, "There was an elephant in the room Sunday at Bristol. ... The stunning attendance woes at Bristol ... wasn't just a splash of cold water. This was a splash of cold water, followed by getting the empty bucket thrown right in your face. This is Bristol, man! Once revered as the toughest ticket in sports" (, 3/21). In Charlotte, Jim Utter wrote Bristol's attendance was a "dose of reality." Utter: "In 14 years of covering NASCAR -- two races a season -- there were never fewer people in the stands for a Cup race than there were on Sunday. ... On top of that, overnight TV ratings were off nine percent" (, 3/21).

Selig plans to write book, teach
at Wisconsin following retirement
Instead of "entering a life of peaceful contemplation" when he retires as MLB Commissioner at the end of '12, Bud Selig will take up office at the Univ. of Wisconsin, his alma mater, and "add an extra inning (or two or three) to a career that has spanned auto sales, sports franchise ownership, and serving as grand poobah of America’s national pastime," according to John Allen of ON WISCONSIN. After the '10 World Series, Selig sat with the UW alumni magazine for an extensive interview about "his past and future." The following is a portion of the Q&A.

Q: You’ll have served twenty years as commissioner in 2012, and then you’re going to retire, right?
Selig: I am. Now, there are many people who don’t believe that, including my wife and family and most owners. They don’t think I am, but I intend to spend a lot of my time in Madison. … I’ll have done this job twenty years, and anybody who understands this job (knows) that’s a long time -- other than Kennesaw Mountain Landis, (I’ll have done it) longer than anybody else.

Q: What will you do in Madison?
Selig: I plan to write a book and teach -- sports in modern society, maybe 1960 to the present, from the time I’ve done it or even before. Sports have played a very dynamic role in society, transcending just the sport itself, and that’s what I’d like to teach.

Q: What do you consider the greatest legacies of your term?
Selig: Changing the economic structure of the sport. In the ’90s, with all the heartache (of the 1994 players’ strike and canceled World Series), there wasn’t a nickel of revenue sharing. This year there’ll be $450 million. … When I took over, the gross revenue of the sport was $1.2 billion. This year it’s $7 billion. ... We’ve now had sixteen years of labor peace. Nobody at the time thought that was possible. It may be the most important single reason why this sport is in its golden era, doing better than anybody dreamed.

Q: What issues will your successor face?
Selig: We need to grow. The sport has tremendous potential for international growth. And just to keep us moving in the direction we’ve been moving in the last five years. ... I think this sport is so woven into society and so popular today that I’m not worried about being threatened. I’m just worried about continuing growth (ON WISCONSIN, Spring '11 issue).

In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin notes IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard "changed his mind on how many cars can start" races this season. Two weeks after "capping the field at 26 cars at most venues, the CEO sees the downside to sending home slower teams." Any competitor who "meets the minimum speed requirement in qualifying will be allowed to race, although those beyond 26 won't be paid by the series." Bernard said, "It's one thing to lose the money; it's another thing to embarrass a sponsor or upset a sponsor." IndyCar had five races last year with more than 26 cars (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/23).

WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR: In Miami, Linda Robertson writes under the header, "Women's Tennis Is In Weakened State." Since February '04, the world No. 1 ranking "has changed hands 26 times among 10 women," and when Caroline Wozniacki "first ascended to No. 1 on Oct. 11, she was the fourth player in a row to capture it for the first time without winning a Grand Slam singles title." Robertson writes, "The ranking situation mirrors the weakened state of women’s tennis, which is in search of a queen." Wozniacki makes a "pleasant new No. 1," but what women's tennis needs with Serena Williams sidelined and Kim Clijsters "planning to retire in 2012, is a dynamic new star" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/23).

PRICE LIKE A CHAMPION: UEFA has ruled out "any change to the ticket prices for the Champions League final" at London's Wembley Stadium in May, despite UEFA President Michel Platini "admitting they were too expensive." The least-expensive ticket on public sale for the May 28 game will be US$244, plus a US$42 booking fee, and Platini said that "family tickets should be half the price they are on sale for." But UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said, "The ticket prices for Wembley will not change -- the ticket sales have already started and the president expressed his opinion about that" (PA, 3/21).