/ March 7, 2011

Bigger than the Big Game: NFL faces off with the NFLPA

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Anderson Mancini

With the NFL mediation talks happening just blocks from Fastcase headquarters at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, we couldn’t help but take a few minutes from our day to look into the issue ourselves. In case you haven’t caught the sports page in the last few months, the NFL and the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) have had some serious disagreements in regard to revenue sharing, retirement benefits, schedules and more. According to Forbes, professional football brought in $8 billion last year, the disagreements are heavily focused on how that money has and will continue to be divided among the players and owners. Our atypical, but reliable source, ESPN reports that the current agreement has been extended through Friday at midnight. Although there are many possible outcomes we may see by Friday, to the dismay of football fans everywhere, it could be much later that we finally see a solution.

The History:
Just last May, the NFL came before the Supreme Court in the case of American Needle v. National Football League, et al. to defend its immunity against anti-trust lawsuits. The league’s high hopes for future protection were slightly thwarted when the high court determined that the 32 teams making up the league do not qualify as a single entity and therefore under most circumstances are not exempt from anti-trust litigation.

The Facts:
The previous collective bargaining agreement reached by the NFL and the NFLPA in 2006 allowed for owners to pocket $1 billion from revenue before anyone else could claim it, now a point of serious contention. Just five years later, the owners would like to increase their share to $2 billion to support the cost of stadium upkeep and marketing. Players are clearly opposed to this suggestion particularly when owners are also proposing a longer season. The NFLPA has also raised concerns about benefits offered to retired and injured players, without much response from the league.

The Worst-Case Scenario:
With so many issues dividing the league and the NFLPA, there are a few drastic measures that either side could take, creating a serious imposition to pro football next season. Football fans have been abuzz for months now about whether the owners would really consider a lockout if all else fails. By issuing a lockout, the NFL would be disobeying the conditions set forth in the 2006 CBA and would open themselves up to a lawsuit. Although the NFLPA cannot sue the league as a union, they would be free to decertify and pursue an antitrust case in court where some believe they would have a better chance of seeing results. Of course a lawsuit would likely mean years more of the disagreements, whether or not pro-football comes back to life.

With five more days of mediation before the NFL and the NFLPA there are high hopes that the worst-case scenario will become a distant memory of when the nation’s favorite sport almost fell to pieces. We’ll be sure to keep you updated as the action unfolds in the weeks ahead.

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