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What a mess! This sums up nicely the almost two months since the most-watched Super Bowl as well as the most-watched program of any kind in American television history was held. This past Super Bowl being played in the new Dallas Cowboys stadium between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the previous record of 106.5 million viewers which was the record for last year’s Super Bowl.
While the NFL Lockout just began on March 11, this Lockout has been in the making for over two years, going back to 2008 when the NFL opted out of renewing the now recently expired collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association. Owners claimed the reason for not renewing their agreement was because costs were too high and the owners would need givebacks of some monetary amount from their players in order to make it worth there wild and to keep operating under what is now the former Collective Bargaining Agreement. Besides this small story in the news, we haven’t really seen the impact over the years until now.
A lot of major events have happened since the Super Bowl which have shaped the heated and messy landscape that the owners, players, and fans have been exposed too and endured this New Year. A time line of events hopefully will help to clarify the current state of the NFL as we see it today.
Before the Super Bowl on January 18, the NFL Players Association, here after called the Union, filed a collusion claim against owners regarding lack of movement of restricted free agents. On February 6, the day before the Super Bowl, both sides met for a brief negotiations session where nothing was accomplished. Then, Happy Valentine’s Day to you too sweetheart, the NFL filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board on February 14th for not bargaining in good faith because the Union had plans of decertifying for a long time now. Soon after on February 18th, renowned federal mediator George Cohen began working with the two sides in Washington to see if some type of agreement or extension could be reached.
Cohen actually fared better than most experts thought, given an almost impossible task; he was able to keep the two sides at the negotiations table for over two weeks. An impressive feat for how far apart the sides were at the start and considering how much they distrusted each other. Then on March 1st, U.S. District Judge David Doty, who was a major player in the Labor disputes between the NFL and NFLPA before in 1993, ruled against the NFL, claiming they violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement when they sought for a 4 billion dollar TV revenue profit guarantee even if no games were played in the 2011 season due to a lockout.
This was considered “Lockout Insurance” to Doty who implied in his judicial opinion that if there was indeed a lockout and the players brought an Anti-Trust suit claim against the owners, that he would rule in the favor of the NFLPA once again. This ruling was seen as a huge victory to the players and blow to the negotiation strategy of the owners. Then, potentially because of this ruling, the two parties on March 3rd, just before the official Collective Bargaining Agreement would expire, decided to extend the deadline one more day to continue talks.
The following day, the two sides then agreed on March 4th to extend the deadline for an entire week, in order to continue negotiations. Sadly, to football fans across America, the following Friday, after rejecting the owner’s proposal, the NFLPA decertified giving up its right to represent the players. Later that night, at approximately midnight, the NFL led by Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed a lockout of the players once the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired.
Now having proceeded to what can be described as an ugly divorce, headed by Demaurice Smith as the Union leader and Commissioner Roger Goodell for the NFL and its owners, 10 players filed an antitrust lawsuit and injunctive request in the federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota on March 11th. This is the same court that Judge David Doty resides.
To try to clarify, an antitrust case is a legal action brought against a party or parties who are being charged with limiting free competition in the marketplace. The players are essentially claiming that the league and its owners by locking out the players from all football activities have limited the players’ ability to market their services to any employer of their choice, which includes price fixing of the amounts that would be paid to the players.
In this proceeding, the alleged anti-competitive actions that have generally taken place include a lockout to prevent free-agency and by boycotting rookie players through efforts to force their salaries to be lower then what they actually would be in a free market. This claim is seen through the proposal to implement a rookie wage scale and cap to how much rookies can make. The suit, which seeks to end the lockout against the players, names Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees as its lead plaintiffs along with other current NFL players
In addition to current players, the league in its effort to show uniformity included one of the incoming top rookie prospects, Von Miller of Texas A&M. Then, surprising to the union, it is U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson and not Judge Doty who has scheduled a hearing for April 6th. Additionally, while some people have expressed curiosity as to why such a high profile case, would take almost a month to have a hearing, this month turnaround is actually fairly quick for cases in the legal world.
While this waiting period has been going on, a lot of interesting events have still taken place, either feeding football fans appetite for news on their beloved sport, or just angering them. With the lockout taking place, all football operations and activities are suspended. Essentially current NFL players are “locked out” of the facilities and are unable to communicate with coaches and other personnel. So even though there is not scheduled to be any OTAs, minicamps, or even film study sessions at team facilities at this time with the players, one event is guaranteed to happen, the 2011 NFL Draft held in New York City.