I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.
— Benjamin Franklin
In 1992, the Honorable David S. Doty, S.S. District Judge, District of Minnesota, saved football. In March of 2011, he might have done it again.
Nearly twenty years ago, Judge Doty found for the collective NFL players (having already decertified their union) in their anti-trust lawsuit against the league, forcing NFL owners to come back to the negotiating table. This paved the way for a new era of free agency, a league-wide salary cap (and floor), and an instant boost in league-wide parity.
The owners had one major trump card heading into these “negotiations” with the players, and that was the big cornucopia of guaranteed TV money spilling into their coffers regardless of whether or not football was actually played over the next two seasons. Billions of dollars. Money for nothing. Written in black and white in their contract: “in case of lockout.”
This so clearly violated common sense as to be ludicrous. Whether you side with players or owners in the long-term distribution of revenue — and I can see legitimate arguments for both the need to generate higher operational profits from your enterprise at the height of its populatiry, and for the rights of players to earn every penny they can in their body-breaking, brain-rattling career — there was simply no logical reason why one party should be pulling in new revenue and the other not if there was no actual product being delivered to the fans.
And in a rare moment of serendipity, legal opinion and common sense actually agreed. According to Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal, the court’s ruling states: “The record shows that the NFL undertook contract re-negotiations [with the TV networks] to advance its own interests and harm the interests of the players.”
So here’s to you, Judge Doty. If not the only voice of common sense left in the land, at least the only one powerful enough to force both sides to listen.
Additionally, the “deadline” at midnight tonight isn’t quite what it seems. According to Jeff Pash, general counsel for the NFL, if significant progress is made in today’s negotiating sessions — perhaps the first one undertaken in full sincerity — the NFL could “stop the clock” on the deadline.
Jeff Pash: “It’s not a Thelma and Louise-type situation where you just go over the cliff and that’s all you can do.”
But then again, sometimes when you’re cornered and you’re on the edge of that cliff, you can’t fight the urge to just go ahead and drive off. Somebody keep Jerry Richardson away from the wheel, that’s all I ask.