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The NFL officially has a work stoppage. As of 12:00 a.m. March 12, 2011 the NFL owners imposed a lockout, disallowing any players from entering the teamsâ€™ facilities. This came just hours after the NFLPAâ€™s union dissolved itself, and just as the current CBA expired.
There seemed to be some light at the end of the tunnel, as the CBA kept being extended and the two sides continued to meet for 16 days of face-to-face mediation in front of a federal mediator. Now NFL fans should be worried. The NFL has become incredibly popular to a level unprecedented. The last two Super Bowls have ranked as the highest watched programs in U.S. television history.
So the big question now is what happens next? Now that there are chains locking players out, negotiations will head to the courts. A number of NFL players have filed a lawsuit to try to block the ownersâ€™ lockout. These players include some of the leagueâ€™s biggest stars, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees. The antitrust suit attacks the NFL’s policies on several key issues including the draft, salary cap and free-agent restrictions such as franchise tags.
Who knows how long things could drag out in the courts. The key figures, DeMaurice Smith and Roger Goodell now take a back seat to relevancy as judges and lawyers become the role players for now. Goodell even reduced his salary to $1 during the lockout, a symbolic gesture, but also to belittle his role from here on out.
Clearly the biggest loser in this whole ordeal is the fans. The draft becomes less exciting because draft-day-trades can only include picks for picks and not player swaps. No players that are drafted can be signed until an agreement is reached, leaving new players and old players in a sort of limbo, not knowing when and where their futures lie. Fans usually excited about the draft and impending free-agency, or prepping their fantasy teams, will be left hoping for a season at all. What good is a fall Sunday on the couch with no football? What else is exciting about a Monday night?
Not all is doom and gloom for fans though. College football isnâ€™t going anywhere, and although the sanction-ridden league constantly has problems, nothing will ever stop the games from being played. Players that might jump to the NFL early will stick around, and NFL coaches that are out of jobs could jump into the college game, making the product on the field that much better. With the added attention to the college game, perhaps something will be done about the awful BCS system and the lack of playoffs.
Television networks could also capitalize on a lack of football, putting premier shows on Sunday or Monday nights, or trying out some new pilots for the future.
The last time there was serious labor problems in the NFL was 1987 when there was a player strike, and the NFL brought in replacement players. They could attempt the same thing this year, but the lack of star power would make it a tough product to sell.
Another interesting idea that has been out there is the players creating their own league to force the ownersâ€™ hands. Former and current players would simply create and run their own league, or could even join the UFL, making it relevant and sliding around the NFLâ€™s demands. Several networks would rush to pick up TV contracts, and there are plenty of stadiums around the country that would fill up to see an NFL game, minus the NFL tag. This would give the players all the power, forcing the NFL to make concessions, or disappear forever. Imagine Jerry Jones with his billion-dollar stadium, and a Dallas Cowboys team that no longer exists.
This is just one proposed idea of many but hopefully the two sides donâ€™t allow things to get that far. The selfishness and greed needs to end and an agreement on how to split billions of dollars from TV contracts, ticket and merchandise sales, sponsorships, etc. needs to be compromised.
Reports stated that the NFL and union were still about $185 million apart when talks broke down on Friday, which is progress, but there were still so many other issues involving free-agency, pensions, safety, the number of games, and rookie salaries that the two sides could not agree on.
The union also had a problem with NFL owners not opening their books to prove that they needed the money they were claiming, citing a problem of trust and transparency.
So although it may be a tough pill to swallow for fans out there. Donâ€™t give up. Things will work out in some way, and regardless, there will be good TV in the fall NFL or not. The â€śfat catsâ€ť in this issue will not come out on top, and hopefully in the end the game will once again be the most important aspect, the game for the fans.