By the end of this week, we should know if an NFL lockout will remain in place.
The players won round one when U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson ruled against the lockout, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Friday to issue a temporary stay. That court is regarded as the most business-friendly appellate court in the country, but the temporary stay was apparently granted to give the court a chance to review Nelson’s decision.
Josh Zuckerberg, a partner in the New York firm of Pryor Cashman and an attorney who has been involved on both sides in sports labor negotiations, saw two main points that will be discussed by the appellate court:
- The NFL has argued the NFL Players Association never intended to negotiate seriously, so their dissolution is a sham. The NFL filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board and insists that’s where the case should be decided. Nelson ruled that the players union was acting appropriately and that the matter should be decided in her court.
- The players argued if the lockout resulted in a lost season, it would do irreparable damage to them because playing careers are so short — slightly more than four years on the average. They weren’t arguing monetary damage because that kind of issue can be easily settled, but it’s very difficult to assess the monetary loss if players lose a full year. Again, Nelson sided with the players.
There is another case pending. Judge David Doty, who brokered the 1993 deal that gave the players free agency and the owners a salary cap, will hear the players’ suit against the owners, which charges that the owners took $4 billion less on their most recent television contract so they would have a war chest to fight the union this year.
The owners hate Doty. An NFL insider told me, “If you put Doty and [Raiders owner] Al Davis side by side, owners would have a hard time deciding which one they hate most.”
If Doty decides that the TV money should be considered part of the overall revenue — so players should receive 60 percent of it — that would make it much easier for the players to continue the fight.
Politics plays a part. The 8th District Court of Appeals is pro-business because it has several members who were appointed by Republican presidents. Both justices who voted for the temporary stay were appointed by President George W. Bush; the dissenting voter was appointed by President Bill Clinton.
Yet, Doty was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.
It has been obvious from the start that the owners planned to wait out the players because they have greater financial resources, especially if they can hang onto the TV money they had set aside.
But a lockout will make it much more difficult for teams to prepare their latest draft picks. For a team such as the 49ers, with a new coaching staff and different offensive and defensive systems to implement, it will be even more difficult.
So, it’s not just the players who would benefit from a legal lifting of the lockout. Fans will, too.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at email@example.com.