Home > 2011 Lockout, NFL, Sports Commentary > All About the 2011 NFL Players Lockout

All About the 2011 NFL Players Lockout

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 05: London Fletcher  of the Washington Redskins intercepts a pass in the endzone intended for Kevin Boss  of the New York Giants on December 5, 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The NFL lockout has reached it’s fourth week now, and it’s time for a LiveBall sports informational on The Lockout and what it means for fans.  I’ll put on a completely amateur and limited legal hat to sort out the lawyer-ese on the lockout.  There’s a difference between being informed, and being a professional, and I will prove that difference below (hint: wikipedia links).

Will the Lockout Stand into the NFL season, causing the NFL to not play games?

This is pretty unlikely, though it’s more likely than we thought about three years ago.  There’s a court case that will determine the legality of such a lockout.  What we already know is that precedent exists established in the case of American Needle Inc. vs NFL.  The NFL has some anti-trust exemption, but it would not be permissible by labor and anti-trust law for 32 independent organizations to lock non-unionized players out of their facilities and not allow their contracts to earn them revenue over the course of the season.  If the Chicago Bears wanted to lock out it’s roster and compete against the 31 other franchises with replacement players, anti-trust law probably wouldn’t prevent them from doing so.  If 32 teams do it as “the NFL”, we’re talking about a seemingly clear-cut case of collusion.

The NFL is not expected to contest that anti-trust ruling in court.  The NFL’s case is expected to be centered around the illegality of the decertification of the NFL Players Association, arguing two different points: that 1) the decertification itself is a ‘sham’ because it’s aimed at simply preventing an otherwise legal lockout by the NFL teams of a players union, and should not be legally recognized, and 2) that the decertification itself was not procedurally legal and valid according to US law and law in the state of Minnesota.  Premise 1) is almost certainly true in the nominal sense, but the NFL is going to have a difficult time arguing that in a court of law.  Certainly, the NFLPA sought legal council prior to decertify to ensure that their decertification was likely to stand, and they must be confident in their ability to have that hold up in court.  But on the second premise, the NFL could actually have a case that threatens the 2011 NFL season.

There’s also more for the players to prove here than just that their decertification was legal, at least to get the Preliminary Injunction they seek on April 6th.  To get that, the players must show they need to get back to work immediately in order to not suffer “immediate and irreparable harm.”  Ultimately, it is my belief that if the decertification holds, the players will win out in court regardless of whether they get that Preliminary Injunction or not, but getting it would more or less protect NFL football for the 2011 season, pending the inevitable appeal by the NFL, of course.

The NFL’s trump card, and the biggest fear for NFL fans, is that due to the complexity of all the legal issues, what appears to be a fairly simple decision on the surface could easily take months if not years to unwind all the layers of: this is fairly standard for the judicial branch — as nothing moves quickly through it.  Even if not ultimately ruled legitimate according to labor practices, the lockout could be upheld into the season, and the players would have no one to blame except their own chosen alternative for this occurring.

The bottom line is that games are at risk right now, although if the players receive a decisive resolution in their favor, they will play all the games, and if the league receives a decisive resolution in their favor, there will be plenty of time to come to some sort of agreement to lift the lockout and play the 2011 season.  If the courts stall the case, then we could miss games.  As of Monday, April 4th, word is that the players are unlikely to win the Preliminary Injunction, and that the lockout will stand, for now, but at least the ruling will be swift.

Why should I ‘root’ for the Players to win?

Well, the owners did opt out of the current CBA which the players were satisfied with and of which the owners would have remained profitable, at least for the duration of the CBA (set to expire after the 2012 season).  I have analyzed the situation and found that the owners concerns about the long term profitability of football under the current labor deal were legitimate, and good ownership of business entities requires the owners to take a skeptical look at their costs in a dynamic, changing business environment.  Dissatisfaction with the current labor deal was just good business.

With that said, any third party projection of that old labor deal would never have supported the idea that NFL owners were going to run into financial trouble in the final two years of the established deal.  At least 80% of the teams were going to post profits in 2011 and 2012 under the old labor deal anyway, which would have then expired and put us in the same situation 2 years later.  So why opt out?  A leveraging tactic of course.  In the absence of showing the books to the public, you have a 32-0 vote against the current deal to show “how much the owners are hurting.”  See: no one thinks this deal is good!  We can get a better deal!  And there might not be football because the selfish players don’t understand how much they are hurting our pockets under the current deal!

If you’re a fan, you shouldn’t buy the opt out as a state of the bargaining process because under desperate conditions, 30 of 32 owners ratified that CBA just two years before they all opted out of it.  It will never be challenged in court, but you can rest assured that the owners colluded to opt out of the CBA.  The owners are at fault for the timing of this debate coming in a down economy when the players are more concerned about looking out for themselves than about the mutually ensured sustainability of the NFL.

A deal is the only way for players to “get theirs.”  The only constraint the owners face when writing deals and manipulating the rules to their financial benefit over the course of the next six or seven years is the concessions they can get from the owners right now.  The owners will survive no matter what.  That’s why they own pro franchises.  If the now-expired CBA had continued indefinitely, the owners would have found a way to leverage their assets into profitable business.  It’s in their nature, their DNA if you will.  The players are helpless outside of the concessions they get through collective bargaining to get their free market value in a very short career.  And obviously, the owners know that they will “win” any long-term lockout situations.  Fans should root hard for the players to get everything they can in good-spirited negotiations, because the 32 businesses will always win on the back end and the 4 or so that do not have only themselves to blame for that.

Then again, speaking of good-spirited negotiations…

Why should I ‘root’ for the Owners to win?

The players needed to pursue the decertification option to have some backing in their labor negotiations with the NFL.  If they hadn’t done this, they could have been walked all over by the owners in collective bargaining.  With that said, the timing of the players to pull the trigger on decertification came at a particularly bad time for fans.  According to nearly all accounts, the players had backed the owners off their initial demands (leveraging decertification in their negotiations), and it was reasonable to believe another week of negotiations could see the two sides reaching a mutually beneficial deal that seemed impossible just a month before at the super bowl.  I’m not saying the players should have accepted the owners last/best offer (it was a ‘bad’ deal for the current players), but they should have extended the deadline once more knowing that mutually beneficial territory was well within sight.

The players pulled the decertification trigger in a pretty positive negotiating environment.  Yes, that’s easy for me to say without being in the room for two weeks, being worn down by the negative, trust-lacking, personal negotiations that destroyed the moral and perhaps the sanity of those in the room.  Sign me up for another week of that nonsense, please.  With that said, anyone who thought these negotiations would be easy, to the point, and that no one would have their feelings hurt was not living in the same world as the rest of us.  Football coaches talk endlessly about mental toughness and how they want players that exhibit it, but the truth is that the leaders on each side were not mentally tough enough to handle, uh, labor negotiations in a professional manner.  This, as much as anything, is why the NFLPA pulled the decertification trigger despite making plenty of unexpected, positive progress towards a resolution.  They made a somewhat irrational decision (but not a surprise decision) under a hard deadline.

If the owners win decisively in court despite the early predictions of the NFLPA that they could get a better deal going towards litigation over collective bargaining, you can score a win for unionized labor negotiations everywhere.  Though the NFLPA will almost certainly re-unionize as soon as it becomes obvious that they cannot block a lockout using an anti-trust tactic, what the players will have done though the de-certification ordeal is handed the owners the upper hand in the labor negotiations, giving away really good leverage they had in decertification, and they will lose a lot of their gains made in good faith in 2006.

While rich owners getting the best of less-rich players in labor negotiations is hardly cause for dancing in the streets, it would seem that victory by the defendants (the NFL) in court would re-establish faith in collective bargaining and how the “little guy” can make gains against large employers the old-fashioned way: logical complaints rooted in reality and necessity, and the art of persuasion over trying to leverage the courts to do the work for them based on obscure legal loopholes.

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