We have finally reached the 12th hour of these CBA negotiations and after weeks of negotiations it seems as if the inability for these men to get along and get business done has doomed the NFL to a lockout. As fans, we are stuck on the outside looking in wondering just where the hell everything went wrong and why exactly we, the most important investor in their game, have to be the ones left on the outside.
What makes matters even worse is the fact that the ramifications surrounding these issues are so smothered in jargon and legal bravado that the vast majority of fans who spent Business Law 101 realizing they never wanted to see the inside of the classroom that was Business Law 220 (raises hand) have very little ability or desire to convert what's being talked about publicly into any kind of useful knowledge.
With that in mind I decided to do some digging of my own and try my best to understand what exactly we are going to expect to see in the next 24 hours. That said, it seems very clear that if things were to get worked out in the next 24 hours the only legitimate explanation would be that somehow this Federal mediator turned into Jack Bauer.
Yesterday 104.3 The Fan had Lester Munson on The Drive. Lester Munson in an ESPN legal Analyst who I knew very little about before hearing him on the radio (and by very little that would actually be zero). However, I thought in the 11 minutes he spoke with Al and D-Mac I got a much clearer idea of what exactly is going on behind closed doors with the NFLPA and the NFL.
If you have any interest in listening to his interview you can find it here. If you listen to sports radio as often as I do you know how many awful guest callers you have to sit through. Les Munson was fantastic on the radio. He was clear, he was concise and he didn't seem too pro-union or pro-NFL. It's definitely worth 11 minutes of your time.
What's going to happen at midnight tonight?
As well all know, the CBA expires at the stroke of midnight. The carriage becomes a pumpkin again and the NFL facilities get locked up tighter than Brandon Davies new chastity belt. It would seem the NFL execs had some kind of dastardly plan set into motion years ago to prepare for this lockout. A clause that would allow them to still receive monetary payments for television contracts in case of a lockout. This would be their lifeline in case of a work stoppage.
Judge Doty, the new overseer of this mess, saw right through it and overturned the lockout clause. The NFL was found to be stockpiling money in preparation for this very scenario. Owners are supposed to be maximizing TV revenues and if instead of passing parts of that revenue on to the players they hold some back to prepare for a lockout, they have acted unfairly towards their players, according to Judge Doty.
Obviously, this has upset the owners as they are now being forced to fight in court for that 4 billion dollar lifeline they were banking on to get them through the potential work stoppage. They will appeal it to a higher court here in Denver, but as of this moment the players have won a big first battle in their fight to keep their jobs. For the fans, though, there is a lining of gloom when this issue gets pushed into the courts. I'm no lawyer, but I've watched enough Boston Legal to know that the appeals process can take a very, very long time.
So at midnight tonight the CBA ends and the technical lockout begins. The key piece here, to my understanding, is that this issue has been officially pushed into the legal courts. This transfers a lot of power from both the NFL and the NFLPA and places it into the hands of the court system. How much do you trust Big Brother?
What's going to happen after the lockout begins?
The NFLPA will decertify, probably as soon as tomorrow or next week.
Somehow I got into the mindset that this dispute was between the players and owners but that is, apparently, a gross over-simplification of reality. I have little understanding of unions. I've never been in a union and my closest connection with a Union was probably 150 years ago when a relation of mine was fighting with them (as a side note I recently learned that relation was neither Denzel Washington nor Matthew Broderick... I had been wrong for so long). That said, I realize my understanding of unions is still a little shaky.
The NFLPA Union, like the NFL, is a monopoly. They are big business just like the NFL is big business and both are fighting for their share of the pie. The difference being the NFLPA obviously focuses on keeping the players happy and the NFL is all about giving the fans a better product that attract more viewers. However, pointing the finger at one or the other and saying "those greedy bastards" fails to recognize these are both businesses. The union and the owners are not so different really. There is money to be had and both sides want it to please their constituents.
To my understanding, the NFLPA must have realized that they cannot possibly win a settlement battle against the NFL owners on their own. The NFLPA has neither time, nor money on their side. They need to find a way to put pressure on the NFL owners from other sources and to do that they must break up their union and become a very large group of angry individuals.
On My Soapbox: MSM tends to criticize and poke fun at our justice system all the time in this country but this is a great example of just how powerful a group of committed individuals can be versus a seemingly all powerful monopoly. Our legal system sometimes gives the smallest guy the biggest gun.
Once the union is broken up, they can then file this injunction on both the lockout and the TV contract money. I would need a lawyer to appropriately define what exactly an injunction means, but for my purpose here it means that everything is put on hold until the courts have a chance to work out the details. The owners may get their lockout, but it won't be the kind of lockout they were anticipating.
What are the ramifications of bringing this to court?
For the players, their best friend is Judge Doty an 85 year old ex-marine who was appointed by President Reagan in 1987. This judge is the key to their future. There are three major steps that will be taken very soon.
1. The players will file an injunction stopping the lockout.
If this legal move succeeds it serves one major purpose. It forces the NFL ownership to fight another battle on a different front. If they can't lockout their players they will owe them, and it goes beyond just medical insurance, pensions, etc. The details are for the courts to work out but they could face a situation where they are forced to pay out a considerable amount of money to the players that a true lockout would relieve them of.
For many of us fans, we want to know if the players can still practice, go to OTA's, workout, talk to coaches, etc. during a lockout. To players, though, they need to know what a lockout means for their livelihood and for their families. They need to know if they have to go on COBRA for health insurance and how to prepare for essentially losing their jobs.
If the players are not able to get an injunction on the lockout they will have to take it to trial. This obviously means more time in the court system and more lawyers getting involved. However, history is on the players side and Vegas odds would say that in time the players would win this battle.
We will know very soon whether or not the players get their injunction on the lockout.
2. The player's injunction on the NFL owners TV money will move forward.
This is something we should be paying extremely close attention to. The NFL is banking on this TV money to help pay all of their bills so they can outlast the players if all this comes to some twisted standoff waiting for the first person to blink. Without it, the owners will lose a big nestegg and they may become very leery of pushing this into next season and giving up all that money.
I'm afraid if the owners are awarded their lockout clause and the TV networks are forced to pay their contracts the owners will back in the position of power. Once again, this situation could end up in trial and get dragged on into the distant future.
3. The players will file an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL monopoly.
This is where things get a little bit complicated but are important for us as fans to understand exactly why the NFLPA needs to dissolve. The USA has created a set of very complicated and specific laws the prevent a monopoly from extorting the American public.
The NFL is a monopoly. They are sole provider of elite football in the NFL. As such, if they are found to be extorting their employees by forcing them to accept certain new contract obligations the courts could find them guilty of extortion (perhaps the wrong legal word) and they could force the NFL to do any number of things to repay their employees.
The key point to all of this is that once the courts become involved and the NFLPA is dissolved this issue is no longer a bargaining problem with two sides. This is now a full-blown court case that could easily stretch into 2012 and beyond. Therein lies the gamble. Personally I don't believe either side wants to see this go on for another year or two, but I think we can be pretty sure that the court system cares more about the process than they do about football.
By getting the CBA negotiations into the courts they get rid of that powerless mediator and instead give a considerable amount of the power to a judge to dictate the future of the NFL. Hopefully as the dust begins to settle and the playing field is leveled both sides will realize that a compromise must be made very soon or they are looking at a nasty court battle that could keep them off the field for a year or more. I guarantee you with the track record the courts have with the players the last thing ownership wants to happen is to let the courts have the final say in all of this.
As a fan of the NFL, I can only hope that the players don't get distracted by the promise of more money and choose to walk away from the bargaining table and let the courts take their time in deciding what is fair.
As a fan, I just want football next year. I don't really care which side "wins" I just don't want to feel like either side is holding out on an entire season because they see an opportunity to make more money. I think that what is happening right now is a great sign that players are ready to do whatever it takes to get back onto the field in August. Dissolving their union is no small deal and it does put considerably more pressure on the owners.
However, I believe that the owners are generally misunderstood. You see, we are their constituents. The players are their employees but we are their business. At some point we have to realize that the owners of the NFL relate to life in an entirely different way than we, the average people, do. These men aren't just trying to line their pockets with more money. That isn't their incentive. They have more money than they could ever spend. What they do have is a business that they want to expand. Their entire process here is to create a better NFL product for the fans. They will re-invest a vast amount of those NFL revenues back into the business and continue to drive up their brand value.
This entire situation is a huge, painful mess but it is part of the growing pains of any hugely successful business. I am hopeful that by the time courts begin to dig their hands into the NFL's business both sides will get scared straight and come to some kind of agreement lest they get locked up in endless court proceedings and watch as their dejected fanbase slowly turns their backs on the whole lot of them.