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Volume 24 No. 116

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL players are "expected to file their reply Monday to the league's brief in an antitrust case, bringing the parties closer to a courtroom showdown that will probably determine when -- or if -- negotiations toward a new contract resume this spring," according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. The April 6 hearing in Minneapolis on the players' request for an injunction to block the lockout and the decision that follows "may provide the only pressure on either party to return to talks." A "flurry of letters between them last week made clear that neither is willing to compromise its legal positions so early in the fight." The stalemate is "largely complicated by the sides' differing views on the decertification of the union." NFL owners "have another reason to resist the proposal players made last week to engage in litigation-settlement discussions in the antitrust suit," Tom Brady v. the NFL. Getting a new deal that is "not subject to oversight by the court ... is as big a priority for many owners as reducing player costs," and a "settlement of the antitrust suit does not accomplish that." However, for the players to "go back to collective bargaining would be an admission that the decertification was not real and was merely a negotiating tactic." Players "would sacrifice their antitrust protections and would remain locked out." The league's view is that "if it agrees to settlement talks, it will be a tacit acknowledgment that it accepts the decertification as real -- essentially that it is complicit in what it considers a sham -- undermining the cases it is building before the National Labor Relations Board and in court" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/28). In Philadelphia, Les Bowen wrote it "became clear" at last week's NFL meetings in New Orleans, "if it wasn't already, that the NFL is only eager to go back to talks" with the union. So the NFLPA "would have to rescind its decertification, which is kind of its basis for the antitrust suit." It is "hard to adequately convey the sneering, contemptuous tone the NFL lawyers convey when discussing the opponents' position." They "made it seem like a slam-dunk" that U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson "will agree with their contention about waiting for the NLRB to rule before granting any injunction that would end the lockout." Bowen wrote it "does seem very likely we will not get anything definitive from Nelson on April 6 or even within a few days of April 6," as she "has a lot of claims and counterclaims to sort through" (, 3/25).

COURTING TROUBLE:'s Peter King wrote, "Whenever the players and owners sit across the table from each other again, I'm told the owners won't bend on one thing: The desire to be rid of federal-court oversight in the new CBA. There had been rumblings of this going back to the mediation days in Washington, and more out of the league meetings in New Orleans last week." King added, "I was conversing Sunday with a source close to several owners and I said, 'It's obvious they don't want to leave their legal fate in the hands of a judge like David Doty.' The source shot back: 'They don't want to leave their fate in the hands of a judge, period. After having the last two decades, basically, with federal oversight in the Eighth Circuit, their attitude basically is this: No other leagues have the courts lording over them. Why should we?'" Another source added that this is a "vital issue for the owners" (, 3/28). In Jacksonville, Tania Ganguli reported Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver "doesn't believe the court system will solve much in the labor dispute between the NFL and its players," and he "thinks negotiations will lead to a fair deal in time so that games aren't missed." Weaver: "I'm getting out another letter to all of our fans saying, you know, you're going to hear a lot in the media about the court hearings on April the 6th. The reality of that is we think we'll win, but if we don't, we're still going to get back to the negotiating table. It'll just be how soon and when. Once we get back to the negotiating table, we all know that we have to play football in 2011. That's our bottom line." Weaver called the 10 plaintiffs in the players' antitrust lawsuit the "gang of 10," and he made several references to the players' decertification and claims against the league being a "sham." Weaver added, "It's obvious there will be some leverage to whichever side prevails. But I don't think it will keep from getting a deal done that's fair to both sides" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 3/26).

Blank says owners are ready to return
to negotiating table at any time
OWNERS' BOX: On Long Island, Bob Glauber wrote, "Of all the principals involved in the NFL labor dispute, the one who has made the most sense is Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti." After "witnessing the vitriolic back-and-forth between the two sides in the two-plus weeks since talks broke down," Bisciotti last week "offered one word for the situation: embarrassing." Bisciotti "understands there are no winners here until a deal gets done." Glauber: "Not the owners. Not the players. And, most importantly, not the fans" (NEWSDAY, 3/27). Meanwhile, Falcons Owner Arthur Blank yesterday wrote his "second letter to the fans since the NFLPA decertified on March 11," saying the NFLPA "walked away from a deal that was more than fair." Blank in the letter stated that the owners "spent a great deal of time discussing the labor situation at the recently concluded league meeting in New Orleans." He wrote, "We all want a quick resolution of the current labor dispute, and we are ready to get back to the negotiating table at any time" (, 3/27). In Chicago, Sean Jensen noted the Bears "aren't volunteering to provide financial transparency" to the NFLPA, but Bears President & CEO Ted Phillips said that the team has "nothing to hide if the NFL believes opening the books is necessary to gain" a new CBA. Phillips: "If the league feels, to get a deal done, they need to release (financials), we're on board." The NFLPA "has insisted on 10 years of detailed financial information for all 32 teams." The Packers' books "are available" as the league's only publicly owned team, but the NFLPA "has made clear that's not enough" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/27).

LONG-AWAITED MEETING: In N.Y., Ralph Vacchiano reported NFL Alumni Association Exec Dir George Martin last Wednesday "finally met with the now-decertified" NFLPA, though sources said that the session was "unproductive, contentious and filled with bitterness on both sides." Martin "called the whole experience 'very unpleasant' and said he felt like a defendant at a war crimes trial." Martin: "What was supposed to be a 15-minute presentation turned into a two-hour cross-examination." Martin "has been campaigning for a face-to-face meeting" with NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith since Martin was hired by the NFL Alumni Association in October '09. He "thought he might finally get it when the players invited him to their meetings in Marco Island, Fla." But while Smith was "in the meeting with Martin, it was far from a one-on-one, as a large group from the players' group led by former Bills linebacker Cornelius Bennett, a member of the executive board representing retired players, were present" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/27).'s Mike Freeman reported the meeting was "filmed," and a source said that it is possible that a "transcript of the meeting might be soon released." A source said that the meeting "became heated ... when several crucial issues were raised" (, 3/26).

LET'S HEAR IT: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote the NFL's broadcast TV partners "should re-convene their analysts for a discussion about the league's current labor situation." Raissman: "Would like to hear what guys like Phil Simms, Cris Collinsworth, Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson have to say. They have been flying under the radar. ... The fellas would be forced to discuss their own network's role in the situation" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/27).

The NHL's "original plan to have six of its teams open the regular season overseas next season has been downsized to four," according to sources cited by Pierre LeBrun of The Oilers and Capitals, part of the "original six teams asked to go over, are no longer in the mix." The Rangers, Kings, Ducks and Sabres "remain slated to open next season in Europe." LeBrun reported Stockholm, Helsinki and Berlin will be "in the Premiere Games mix as host cities next fall." Talks between the KHL and NHL "have fallen through and there won't be any Premiere Games in Russia as originally hoped." That is why Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals are "no longer in the Premiere Games mix." They were "only a fit if Ovechkin could play a game in his home country." While KHL President Alexander Medvedev last week said that the NHL "had asked for too much money and that's why the games are a no-go," sources said that "another reason for the collapse in talks was that Medvedev was 'resistant' to the notion of two NHL teams playing each other in Russia." Instead, Medvedev "wanted the two NHL teams to face off against KHL clubs" (, 3/26). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly indicated that a "key reason for the lack of agreement on exhibition games was the contentious game" between KHL club SKA St. Petersburg and the Hurricanes last October. The Hurricanes pulled C Eric Staal from the game because coach Paul Maurice said SKA players "were getting awfully close to his knees." Daly, when asked if the deal "fell through because of what happened on or off the ice," replied, "The former" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/27).

There recently has been a "lot more personality in professional golf" than we have seen for some years, and this could be the "verge of a new era of characters on the PGA Tour, harkening back to the days of Lee Trevino, Sam Snead and Chi Chi Rodriguez," according to John Paul Newport of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The "cocky" Gary Woodland, who won his first PGA Tour tournament earlier this month, has joined four-time winner Dustin Johnson, a "known party hound, in the Tour's swelling ranks of swaggering jocks." Boo Weekley and Bubba Watson are a "fine pair of oddball Southern boys," while Rickie Fowler is known for riding dirt bikes and Anthony Kim is "no stranger to Las Vegas casinos." Also, several European players, including Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter, "enjoy nothing so much as busting each other's chops in public forums." These players are a contrast to the "'robopros' golf fans complain about, corporate automatons bred in country clubs with no emotion or sense of fun." However, golfer Kenny Perry said the current Tour is "not even close" to the days of Trevino and Rodriguez. Weekley said, "Back in them old days, when they got done playing, they went straight to the bar in the clubhouse and sat around talking about it. They enjoyed each other's company. You don't see guys doing that anymore." Weekley "sees increased media attention as a major reason the players themselves aren't having as much clubhouse and on-course fun as in the old days." Golfer Jim Furyk: "The scrutiny on people is much more intense these days than it was 30 years ago. But I'm not crying about that. I see it as a good thing. That same scrutiny is what allows us to make such a good living" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/26).

NOT QUITE READY YET? GOLF WORLD MONDAY's Jaime Diaz writes some of the "prospective successors" to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have "a lot to prove as closers" following yesterday's final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Fowler and Watson "shot slapdash 78s and Spencer Levin had a nervous 76." Winner Martin Laird "was as shaky as anyone, playing the first 11 holes five over par." Diaz: "There's no doubt the members of the would-be new order have flashy tools. But real stars are validated only when those tools consistently hold up in the heat" (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 3/28 issue).

There is a "strong chance that by midsummer, the NBA will have joined the NFL in locking out its players, and for this we can credit two men above all others," NBA Commissioner David Stern and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, according to the N.Y. TIMES SUNDAY MAGAZINE's Tommy Craggs, who analyzes which commissioner is "better equipped" to lead his league through labor strife. Both Stern and Goodell are "peddling what is essentially an upward redistribution of wealth into the hands of guys like Jerry Jones and Mark Cuban," and it is "going to take some real salesmanship to get the public to go for that." Stern already has "presided over five lockouts during his tenure -- two referee lockouts and three player lockouts -- and he has won convincingly each time." Craggs notes "what's more, he has done it with so much outward charm." Stern has "employed the kinds of sotto voce appeals to our lower selves that we typically reserve for putting people in Congress." Last fall, as the CBA talks were getting underway, the NBA "began to crack down on players’ 'excessive complaining,' which no one thought was a real problem until Stern made it one, again summoning the useful specter of a work force that must be brought to heel." Goodell has "borrowed liberally from Stern’s playbook, but his execution has been clumsier." His emphasis on "personal conduct has occasioned a lot of selective moral grandstanding on subjects both big and small." Goodell "lacks Stern's touch on a tactical level too." Craggs concludes, "Stern is the model commissioner for our times. He has sold lockouts just as ably as he has sold replica jerseys. ... Easy Dave will win his sixth lockout, if it comes to that, and he will win handily, smiling all the while, no matter how nasty and brutish he gets behind closed doors" (N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE, 3/27 issue).