Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 24 No. 179

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The current NFL CBA expires following the '20 season, and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith said the "likelihood of either a strike or a lockout in '21 is almost a virtual certainty." Smith in an interview with The MMQB's Albert Breer said it was too soon to know if that meant games would be missed, but he said, "Let's look at our history. The owners do a deal in 2006 and opt-out in 2008. We do a deal in 2011 with no opt-outs because we like the benefits under the current deal and we didn't want to give the owners the opportunity to opt out and take back the gains that we currently have. If there is no renegotiation of the collective bargaining agreement and we reach 2021, there is no uncapped year. So why would I do that again? All of the mutual benefits that were supposed to happen as a result of the opt-out didn't happen last time. Owners colluded with each other and we found out they colluded with each other." Smith added, "We have a new deal here where if it doesn't get fixed, you head into a certain -- small 'a' -- armageddon" (SI.com, 8/17). In N.Y., Hannah Withiam notes the current CBA "has resulted in five years of relative stability" after the 132-day lockout in '11. However, the league and the union have "frequently butted heads over player discipline, with the tension reaching a peak this week over Ezekiel Elliott's domestic violence case" (N.Y. POST, 8/18). USA TODAY's A.J. Perez notes while the revenue split between the players and owners will "again by a major issue," the power NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wields under the personal conduct policy will "almost certainly come under scrutiny" (USA TODAY, 8/18). In Newark, Joe Giglio writes Smith "sounded like a leader who feels his side hasn't gotten its way lately." Giglio: "Expect this to become a big story in the coming years" (NJ.com, 8/18).

LATEST CALL TO ARMS: CBSSPORTS.com's John Breech noted Smith is "ready to take the NFLPA to battle with the NFL" over the CBA. The union is "taking the possibility of a work stoppage so seriously that it warned players in May to start saving money" (CBSSPORTS.com, 8/17). YAHOO SPORTS' Frank Schwab wrote every time the NFL "antagonizes the NFLPA, we're reminded that the CBA has many years to go." That also means there is a "lot of time to make nice and come to common ground on some contentious issues." Smith's threats "might just be a negotiating ploy." In addition, it has been a long time since NFL players were "willing to miss game checks to strike for better conditions." Schwab: "We'll see if they are more willing to do so after the NFL has taken plenty of victory laps about its perceived wins in the last CBA" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 8/17). ESPN's Mike Greenberg said the current system is "so inherently designed and built for the owners to win any power struggle they really want to” against the NFLPA. ESPN's Will Cain noted Smith “has no unified front to represent." Cain: "He has a fractured group of people he represents and he cannot get all of their interests going in the same direction” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 8/18).

GUARANTEED MONEY THE MAIN ISSUE: NBC Sports Bay Area's Ray Ratto said the NFLPA has "never had leverage because the nature of the sport is contracts are not guaranteed and careers are short." Ratto: "Players want to get their money right away because they can’t guarantee it’ll be there in five years, so they always cave on things like player discipline and all of the other things that DeMaurice Smith is waving his arms about.” NBC Sports Bay Area's Kelli Johnson said the union will use subjects like the lack of consistency in player discipline, head trauma, the number of preseason games and playing overseas "to get the one thing they really care about, which is guaranteed money." Johnson: "They're going to start pointing to all of these other leagues that are far less violent and career-ending in terms of injuries and don't have the long-term effects that we know football has in terms of head trauma" ("The Happy Hour," NBC Sports Bay Area, 8/17).

NOTHING COMES EASY: FS1's Jason Whitlock said the increasing tension between the NFL and NFLPA regarding the Elliott case "will become the next Deflategate." FS1's Colin Cowherd agreed it will reach the same level of legal maneuvering as Deflategate, but it will not "hurt the product" in terms of ratings. He said the NFL has "shown an ability to overcome these big, ugly distractions." Whitlock: "This isn't about ratings. To me, this is about a relationship between ownership and the players, and about the ability to conduct business in the best interests of the league and both parties." Whitlock said the "acrimony between the union and ownership is just going to spill out and continue to make it hard to do great business in the NFL." FS1's Greg Jennings said this will be "bigger than Deflategate simply because we're dealing with the Dallas Cowboys and Jerry Jones" ("Speak For Yourself," FS1, 8/17).

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in the last two years has gone "toe-to-toe" with the Cowboys and Patriots by suspending QB Tom Brady and RB Ezekiel Elliott despite the fact there is "absolutely nothing for the league to gain by going after its most iconic franchises," according to Tim Cowlishaw of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Suspending Brady four games last season for Deflategate "did the league no good," and issuing a six-game ban to Elliott for violating the personal conduct policy and "decreasing the Cowboys' chances of a repeat NFC East championship is not a ratings booster" either. Goodell "gains nothing personally and the league suffers when Brady or the Cowboys are in any way diminished in the eyes of fans" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/16). NBC Sports Bay Area’s Ray Ratto said Goodell in back-to-back years has "taken on the two most powerful owners" in the NFL. Goodell and the league "beat" the Pats and Owner Robert Kraft, and they are now "going all-in" on the Cowboys and Owner Jerry Jones. Ratto: "I don't know that politically this is the way for Roger Goodell to maintain his job, but if he's going to do that, he clearly thinks that he has a power base and that those guys can be isolated." Goodell has "picked two big fights and if he wins them both, we'll see how this plays out" (“The Happy Hour,” NBC Sports Bay Area, 8/16). In Chicago, Barry Rozner wrote Goodell deserves credit for "making a tough call in the face of what he knew would be a barrage of criticism." Considering the "immense power" of Jones and his public statements over the last year that he was "certain Elliott would not face punishment, this was a bold move by Goodell that could certainly have him wondering about his job security." Rozner: "It's ridiculous that the investigation took a year but stunning that Goodell had the guts to suspend one of Jones' stars" (Chicago DAILY HERALD, 8/16). 

SOMETHING TO KEEP IN MIND: CBS Sports Network's Adam Schein said it was "very interesting that we have not heard a word" from Jones about Elliott's suspension. Schein: "His team is obviously impacted. He's also very tight with Roger Goodell. Jones has a ton of power. Is he pleading a case behind the scenes?" ("Time to Schein," CBSSN, 8/16).

Eagles DE Chris Long "put his arm around" S Malcolm Jenkins during the national anthem prior to the team's preseason game against the Bills in what is "believed to be the first time a white player has made such a public statement of support of the polarizing movement that started as a way to spread awareness about racial inequality and police brutality last summer," according to Evan Grossman of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Jenkins and Seahawks DE Michael Bennett, who have "both been protesting the anthem, both said this week that white players joining in could help move the needle and make the anthem protests more than just an issue for black players" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/18). In Philadelphia, Jeff McLane notes Long has been "outspoken since the events" in his hometown of Charlottesville this past week. Long said that he had "told Jenkins of his plans to make a gesture before the game." Long: "I just told Malcolm, 'I’m here for you.' I think it’s a good time for people that look like me to be here for people that are fighting for equality." Jenkins, who on Thursday continued his practice of raising a fist in the air, said, "This is a moment in time where he feels the need to kind of take that step and lead, and I appreciate that." Long added, "I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘You need white athletes to get involved in the anthem protest.’ I’ve said before that I’ll never kneel for an anthem because the flag means something different to everybody in this country, but I support my peers. ... My thing is Malcolm’s a leader and I’m here to show support as a white athlete" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 8/18).

A NEEDED PUSH: FS1's Shannon Sharpe said he was "sincerely touched" by Long's actions, as it showed a white player willing to "step outside of his comfort zone." Sharpe said, "Sometimes when the wagon is on top of the hill, all it needs is one push. Maybe Chris Long is that white athlete that got this started and others will join. ... Eventually there are going to be enough of those white players and enough white people are going to get on board that is going to change policy" ("Undisputed,” FS1, 8/18).

COME TOGETHER
: CSNPHILLY.com's Andrew Kulp writes although Jenkins' demonstration has "not garnered the mainstream national attention of some of the other high profile athletes who have sat or knelt during the anthem, he has been among the most outspoken." He said, "The biggest thing is to continue to call attention to the things in this country I think everybody after the past week has been focusing on." Eagles CB Ron Brooks on Thursday also "knelt for the anthem." He said, "I'm not too concerned about whether it be a white person, black person, they could be Anglo-Saxon, whatever race, it doesn't matter. ... A lot more people need to (act) and not just be quiet and let things go to the wayside" (CSNPHILLY.com, 8/18). 

COACHES, EXECS TALK PROTEST: 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan on Thursday said that he "hasn't had formal discussions with his team about potential protests during the national anthem." He added that he "wouldn't expect any players to think they needed to tell him in advance if they planned to kneel, sit or raise a fist." Shanahan: "I see stuff on TV also and things that are going on in this country and this world. I think anybody who sees that stuff and doesn't get a feeling like they'd like to do something about it to end that stuff, I think something is wrong with you. I understand why guys want to say something and speak up. There's lots of different ways to do it." 49ers GM John Lynch on Wednesday "called protests 'divisive,' even though he said he respects players' right to express their opinions" (USA TODAY, 8/18). Broncos Exec VP/Football Operations & GM John Elway said the team has "not had a conversation" with players over protests. Elway: "Everybody has the right to do what they wish to do and their beliefs are their beliefs. ... They have the right to display whatever they wish to display." He added, "We’ll respect that and whatever you want to do is fine with us. But the bottom line is that can’t get in the way of our main goal, and that is to compete for world championships" (DENVER POST, 8/18). Meanwhile, in Akron, Nate Ulrich reports Browns coach Hue Jackson "responded Thursday to criticism he received for his comments earlier this week about national anthem protests." Jackson on Monday said that he "hoped none of his players would protest by sitting or kneeling during the national anthem before upcoming games." Jackson issued a statement Thursday that read, "The intent of my comments was not to discourage individual expression from our players in light of a cause that moves them to personal expression" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 8/18).

EXTRAORDINARY TIME FOR SPORTS: In Chicago, David Haugh writes many people "want players to worry only about football the same way they prefer columnists and talk-show hosts stick to sports." However, this is the "wrong week to make that plea."  This is "not your ordinary NFL season, kicking off three weeks from Thursday, but an extraordinary time for the league and all of sports as it pertains to their role in society" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 8/18).

Charlotte's effort to bring MLS to the city has "run into another major obstacle," as the City Council's Economic Development Committee on Thursday "declined to vote on an offer from Mecklenburg County Commissioners to deed the Memorial Stadium site to the city," according to Katherine Peralta of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts noted the offer "included contingency language that it must be used for MLS." This comes two weeks after county commissioners "voted to give the city the stadium site, and withhold any additional funding" for the proposed $175M stadium. The remaining balance -- more than $100M -- for the 20,000-seat stadium will either have to be "covered by the ownership group," called MLS4CLT and headed by SMI President & CEO Marcus Smith, or the city. MLS4CLT said that the group "remains optimistic about its chances of landing an expansion team" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/18). Charlotte City Council member James Mitchell, who heads the Economic Development Committee, said, "Soccer's not dead, but it's definitely dead at Memorial Stadium." In Charlotte, Erik Spanberg reported the full council will vote on Sept. 11 on the "county proposal considered by the committee on Thursday." It is "all but certain the 11-member council will follow the committee recommendation and decline the county offer to provide the site to the city." The committee on Sept. 14 will then begin what Mitchell "referred to as 'MLS 2.0,' a reboot that will slow down the process and seek public input, analyze public-private partnership roles and revisit 12 potential stadium sites." Those moves "likely quash Smith's hopes to land a team in December" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 8/17).

PLAYING PARTNERS? In Nashville, Joey Garrison reports Vanderbilt Univ. is expected to decide early this fall if the school "wants its football team's next home to be an off-campus stadium shared" with a prospective MLS expansion club. John Ingram, who is heading the city's MLS bid, said that an answer "will need to come by the time a formal stadium proposal is presented to the Metro Council for approval." Ingram and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry are "working on an aggressive timeline to get a project approved" in time for MLS' expansion decision in December. Barry's office "plans to file legislation with the council for a stadium funding plan within 30 to 45 days." Vanderbilt AD David Williams said, "They want to go to council in October with a plan. ... At that point in time, the size of the stadium, the cost of the stadium, the involvement of the stadium needs to be set. So, I would think that, yes, that would be the timetable" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 8/18).

NO PLACE TO CALL HOME: SOCCER AMERICA's Paul Kennedy notes of the 12 MLS expansion candidates, none has "come farther in a shorter period of time than Cincinnati." USL club FC Cincinnati has "shattered all attendance records for minor-league soccer" and "drew three crowds larger than 30,000" for its home U.S. Open Cup matches. However, that "won't be enough if it can't come up with a stadium solution." FC Cincinnati currently is a "tenant at Nippert Stadium," which is owned by the Univ. of Cincinnati. FC Cincinnati is "examining three sites" at which it might build a soccer-specific stadium where it would "control such basic things as filed dimensions and field markings and playing dates but most important, all revenue streams" (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 8/18).

MLL on Saturday will hold its championship game at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, a sign that North Texas "may be in line to get a team as early as the start of next season," according to Tracy Cook of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. MLL Commissioner David Gross admitted, "Wherever we go play special events is where we're looking at." Putting a team in the Dallas area "would be a move toward bringing the game west, as seven of the league's nine teams are on the East Coast." The two exceptions, the Denver Outlaws and Ohio Machine, are facing each other in Saturday's title game. Gross said that several groups "are interested in owning a team in Dallas, but Jerry Jones' camp is not one of them." Gross: "The Cowboys will not be an owner. They've made it clear their focus in on the Cowboys, but they're very supportive of what we're trying to do." Cook noted it is "unclear whether a Dallas team would be an expansion of the league or a relocation of an existing team," though there have been "rumors of the Rochester Rhinos moving" to the area. Gross said that MLL is "looking to expand to 16 teams but has to do it the right way." That means "finding an appropriate venue and owners who can expose a new crowd of people to the sport" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/17).

Sparks F and WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike has "big plans" for the WNBA, especially as the league "heads toward what could be an industry-defining" CBA after the '19 season, according to Tyler Blint-Welsh of the L.A. TIMES. Her vision is "that of a global brand, with NBA-sized followings in markets worldwide." To accomplish that goal, she said that the new CBA "must address critical elements such as marketing, player housing and travel, ticket sales and in-arena entertainment." Ogwumike: "Sometimes I feel like the WNBA puts (itself) in a box, and we need to jump outside of the box." Blint-Welsh notes since peaking at 10,864 in '98, the league’s average per-game attendance has "steadily dropped, hitting a low of 7,318" in '15. Last year’s average "rose slightly, to 7,655, but televised games draw audiences less than 20% of the size of an NBA game, on average, and half of the league’s 12 teams lose money." Ogwumike said that "much of the problem ... is that WNBA players aren’t recognizable figures." She added that until the league and its players "join in an offseason promotional effort, attracting and retaining new fans will continue to be an uphill climb."  But Ogwumike "hinted that some of the league’s players don’t see the value of collaboration" (L.A. TIMES, 8/17).