Amidst New Collusion Charges, Is NFL Lockout Inevitable?

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In a move rumored to be imminent since October, the NFL Players Association confirmed Tuesday that it filed a collusion claim against the league's owners last week. The union claims teams conspired to keep 2010 player salaries low in anticipation of a work stoppage in 2011. With just six weeks left before the current collective bargaining agreement expires, does the motion eliminate the already faint possibility of the two sides striking labor deal before the March deadline? A variety of voices from around the Web are considering the issue:

  • Not the Worst Thing  In two separate posts, Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio--who first broke the news of the NFLPA's collusion filing over the weekend--explains why this is not the death knell for labor peace. Despite the the players' "recent rancor" and use "calculated P.R. ploys aimed at pressuring the owners to do a deal without imposing a lockout," Florio notes the union waited until today to confirm the filing, suggesting union leadership is increasingly wary of "reinforcing the league's claim that the NFLPA is more interested in litigating than negotiating." And while the league and the union haven't had a full-blown negotiating session since November, Florio says the two sides are still in constant contact. "Meetings of subcommittees addressing the various and sundry issues between the two sides are happening more often," he explains. "Communications, verbally and in writing, are being exchanged all the time."
  • High Burden of Proof  The Washington Post's Mark Maske suggests the collusion claim is not the broadside attack it appears to be. The union would have to prove to the court-ordered special master that "owners improperly conspired to restrict players' salaries--rather than merely demonstrating that players were paid less money--to prevail in a collusion case." Even if the union does win, the current labor deal features "provisions to set the amount of the damages if a successful collusion claim is made by the union," thereby limiting the financial exposure of the league's owners.
  • Concessions Emerging  The notion the NFLPA is steeling itself for a prolonged lockout doesn't mesh with the conciliatory approach the union has taken in recent weeks, explains Liz Mullen of Sports Business Daily. A proposal made to the league in December, for instance, featured "greater concessions than have been made previously" on the issue of revenue sharing.
  • Lack of Exposure  Sports Illustrated's Michael McCann says there are provisions are in place to prevent the process from turning into a public relations nightmare. By privately hiring a special master to arbitrate labor disputes, the NFL and NFLPA are guaranteed a de facto "private trial...conducted in private and kept in confidence, without production of a public record." It also gives both sides confidence the case will be heard by someone who is " knowledgeable about specific disputes between the NFL and NFLPA...certainly more knowledgeable than a typical jury or judge."

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