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NFL Lockout Looming in 2011?

With the NFL Players Association and the conglomerate of NFL owners in Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations this month, we have a window to discuss whether the expiration of the CBA will result in the loss of the 2011 season.  My friends Bram A. Maravent and Jeffrey F. Levine, co-authored an article (click here) on just that subject, which was recently published in the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal (IPLJ).

The main issue in CBA negotiations has, and will be, the percentage of NFL revenues to player salaries.  Other major concerns include, NFL rookie salaries and the legal inability of franchises to recoup signing bonuses from players who breach contracts or refuse to perform.

The authors of the article take the position that the owners cared so much about labor peace and preventing a potential labor stoppage back in 2006, that they agreed to a CBA that had unfavorable terms.  There is a thought that former NFL Commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, lobbied ownership to accept the deal because he wanted his legacy to be that he presided over almost two decades of uninterrupted labor peace.

Many pages are dedicated to providing a formal history of the NFLPA, its major players, and the numerous legal actions it has been a part of over the years of its existence.  It certainly is not a short read, but I believe that it is important to have a good understanding of the history of negotiations between the NFL and the Players Association in order to have a full grasp on what is going through the minds of the bargaining parties today.

The use of media by both sides of the negotiation table is nothing new.  In fact, it was heavily used in the NHL’s battle with the NHLPA earlier this decade.  It is also being heavily employed by the NFL and the NFLPA during this round of CBA negotiations.  This time, new media in the form of blogs and Tweets are involved, as well.

In such contentious negotiations, it is very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to determine which side has a better case.  And at the end of the day, it does not matter; everyone suffers if a season, or part of a season, is lost due to a labor battle.  Is the NFL bargaining in good faith?  Should there be a rookie salary cap?  Does the union truly have all the financial information it needs to bargain?

Interestingly, when the authors released the piece, they wrote that there is no need to create artificial deadlines, “as  these will obstruct the natural development of negotiations between the parties.”  DeMaurice Smith certainly did not agree, as the NFLPA had an “internal deadline” for agreeing to a new CBA, which apparently has already passed.  Going back to my previous point about new media, check out where the news was posted – on the League’s own blog focused mainly on labor issues.

Skip to the end of the IPLJ article and you will see the authors’ predictions, which includes the belief that Ownership will lockout the players.  And then there is decertification talk, which has been gaining momentum as of late.  Every NFL team has approved of a plan to decertify the NFLPA if there is not a new CBA agreed to by March 3, 2011.  I assume that the date is subject to change.  Decertification would mean that the NFLPA is no longer a union; players could then sue the league under an antitrust claim.

This article originally appeared on the Sports Agent Blog.


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