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The lockout: It’s not fiction anymore

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Sports, Top Stories

March 18, 2011

Graphic by Steven Wong/The Hoot

Last Friday the long-running negotiations between the National Football League (NFL) and the former players’ union (NFLPA) over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), after two short extensions, finally reached its next chapter. Unfortunately, the next chapter is litigation.

In order to avoid a required six-month waiting period before filing an anti-trust lawsuit, the NFLPA decertified as a union; and became a trade association before the close of business Friday. By the end of the night Friday, both sides’ stated fears had been realized. The NFL claimed that players wanted to sue: 10 players including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have filed a class action lawsuit in federal court in Minneapolis, where Judge David S. Doty has had jurisdiction over NFL matters since the early 1990s. The players stated fears that owners would institute a lockout, which was exactly what has happened.

The NFL lockout has a few simple and immediate effects. Players and teams, meaning coaches and other support staff, cannot have any contact with each other. Even players selected in the upcoming draft, in which teams draft the rights to negotiate NFL contracts with new players, are legally barred from any contact with team personnel and are unable to sign contracts. Furthermore, teams have ceased covering players’ health insurance, including for Detriot Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who now has to complete his injury rehabilitation outside of the Lions medical team and facilities. Furthermore free agents are trapped in a state of limbo both due to their inability to sign with teams and the uncertainty of what the rights of free agents will be under either the next CBA or lack thereof.

While the next football season doesn’t really start until September, this impasse is still set to pose a significant threat to both the format of the season and the existence of the season itself. The NFL is effectively in a state of business as usual until the NFL draft finishes next month. After the draft, things will start to get interesting.

In regards to the draft, I do not understand why many of the top prospects, or at least the college students who aren’t graduating this spring, are not withdrawing from the draft for the year in order to play another year with the security that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) does not have the issue of labor negotiations, etc.

The main point of contention, an additional $1 billion on top of the $1 billion already received that the NFL wants from the players before splitting the rest of the revenue. Other issues include the NFL’s proposed rookie salary cap and the owners’ desire to expand the regular season at the expense of the preseason. The NFL has also proposed to put increased emphasis on players’ safety; however, the possibility of adding two more season games would likely increase the chances of injury to players, despite the increased care to avoid injuries.

Perhaps the positive part of this scenario is that the NFL itself is initiating this lockout. Because of this simple fact, the NFL cannot hire replacement players to play out an alternate 2011 season. While I dislike almost everything about the lockout, I cannot help but enjoy the fact that the owners are unable simply to replace the players.

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