Despite the heroic efforts of federal mediator George Cohen and favorable decisions issued by the Court, the inevitable is finally upon us. The NFL officially has its first work stoppage since 1987 as labor talks broke down and the NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) decertified. Cohen conceded that his attempts at facilitating an agreement have become futile:
“The parties have not achieved an overall agreement, nor have they been able to resolve the strongly held competing positions that separated them on core issues. No useful purpose would be served by requesting the parties to continue the mediation process at this time.”
By dissolving and announcing it no longer represents the players in collective bargaining, the NFLPA cleared the way for class-action lawsuits against the NFL, which opted out of the CBA in 2008. The CBA was due to expire on March 4, 2011, and then was extended twice with the wishful thinking that the owners and players could find common ground on the key issues, which include: 1) how to divide more than $9 billion in annual revenues, and 2) how much financial information the league would be willing to turn over.
The ramifications of this impasse could be a lengthy court battle that could potentially jeopardize the 2011 season as it did in 1987 when the players went on strike and the league used replacement players. More recently, the NFLPA decertified in 1989, and antitrust lawsuits by players led to a new CBA in 1993 that included free agency, and the union formed again that year.
Union head DeMaurice Smith said the parties discussed a proposal that the owners had presented. While significant differences continue to remain, Smith informed the owners that if there was going to be a request for an extension, then the players would ask for ten years of audited financial information to accompany that extension. About 15 minutes later, the union decertified.
While the net result isn’t good for anyone, each side thinks they are more reasonable than the other. A representative of the NFL stated that :”the union left a very good deal on the table,” which included splitting the difference in the dispute over how much money owners should be given off the top of the league’s revenues. Under the expiring CBA, the owners immediately got about $1 billion before dividing the remainder with the players; the owners originally were asking to roughly double that by getting an additional $1 billion up front.
In addition, the NFL allegedly has offered to mantain the current 16-game regular season schedule with four pre-season games for at least two seasons (with any changes negotiable), institution of a rookie wage scale through which money saved would be redistributed to pay veterans and retired players, creation of new year-round health and safety rules, establishment of a fund for retired players including $82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years, and disclosure of the league’s audited financial profitability information. The NFLPA rejected this offer which led to the current impasse.
So here we are…exactly where we hoped we wouldn’t be a long time ago. Fortunately, there is so much to lose on both sides that resolution is inevitable before the 2011 season starts. The rookie draft will still take place in April and other business will still resume as normal. Right now we are in the middle of March where college basketball is at the forefront of the sports world, then to be followed by Opening Day and the beginning of the baseball season. Right after that we have the NBA and NHL playoffs which will lead us into the summer. So there is plenty going on to keep us sports fans occupied. My advice for now is to put the NFL issues on the backburner and let the parties work out their conflicts. Both the owners and players have incentives to reach an agreement. Granted, if an agreement is not reached in a timely manner, there could be a serious detrimental effect to a lot of people and a lot of businesses. But there is no need to push the panic button just yet. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and everyone will realize that resolution is the best solution.
During the work stoppage, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s salary will be $1.00. This is wonderful news, except I don’t feel bad for him. Plus, if the league and the players wanted resolution without having to expend all the costs and fees associated with litigation federal mediation, they could have just paid me $100.00 to settle the dispute on behalf of the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment, which would have entitled the NFL and NFLPA to a season’s worth of unlimited dispute resolution services. Maybe next time Mr. Goodell.