NFL in 2011? Many Rivers to Cross.

To be honest, while I’ve leaned on the side of the players during this labor standoff, I don’t hold a lot of truck with the events of the last week. From what I understand, the work done to get an extension — and an extension of the extension — was done based on some notion of coming compromise. And clearly the owners’ group was in position to make compromises on some of their demands after being backhanded by Judge Doty’s court.

However, the players were in position to make compromises as well, if settling a deal and re-opening the business of football in Spring was really a part of their plan. But among the numerous leaks that sprung in the negotiation’s supposed gag order, all we heard was player offer of a “50-50 split of revenues” and a demand to “open the books” to justify more. These are the exact same proposal and threat of counterstrike used a month ago. Compromise? None.

It seems to me that DeMaurice Smith, in his first “main event” as a negotiator, has been guilty of reading his own press and overestimating the strength of his position. Just like so many rookies in the past, he seemed capable of leading the game-winning drive, but may have just thrown a gut-churning interception.

Now, as Bernie Miklasz writes, both sides are pummeling the press with statements and counter statements, trying to wage a war for public opinion, a war that has only casualties at this point.

What has to happen between now and the familiar sounds of pads hitting pads?

  • A ruling from the National Labor Relations Board: Is the NFLPA’s decision to disperse itself for the purposes of suing the owners “a sham?” (Justification for “yes”: they’ve done it before, and they have full intention of reforming once the business of football regains normalcy. Justification for “no”: giving workers broader bargaining priveleges in labor negotiations.)

If the NLRB rules yes, this could end quickly, in a bloody massacre of player salaries and contract rights. If no, the process continues…

  • A ruling from a U.S. Appeals Court: should the owners be allowed to keep their “Lockout War Chest” of TV money?

  • A class-action law suit from the collective players, demanding that the league not act in collusion to lock them out, and demanding to “let us play.” This potentially brings the league’s favored anti-trust status under review (the federal government essentially recognizes the league as something other than a monopoly, even though they face zero competition in their industry). It could also open 32 massive financial cans of worms when it comes to the completely unregulated operations of each NFL team.

Whether by lawsuit or by threat of that suit, at some point the owners and players have to stop lobbing shells at each other and get back to the negotiating table, because as of yet there is little foundation for agreement.

From Judy Battista of the New York Times:

    In the end, though, the sides were not close to a settlement. DeMaurice Smith, the head of the union, said that during negotiations, players had offered owners $550 million over four years — $137.5 million a year — without the demand for financial verification, still a gap of $200 million a year. They had not figured out a rookie compensation plan, had not yet settled on whether to eventually have an 18-game regular season, and had not yet agreed on how much money each side would allocate for retired players.

That’s a whole lot yet to figure out. Suddenly the next four months don’t seem like nearly enough time.