When Will Football Come Back?

The Super Bowl may have been the last NFL game in 2011 if a new labor contract isn't signed with players. Here' s where the showdown stands.

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Given the current successes enjoyed by the NFL, it's a little ironic that the league has been continually beset by scandal this season. Despite record revenues and soaring viewership (an NFL press release crowed that 28 of the Fall's 30 most-viewed TV programs were football games), the NFL is facing a potentially season-cancelling crisis in 2011 as the collective bargaining agreement between the player's association and the owners is set to expire on March 3rd. A lockout looms.

The issues in contention pit the players against the owners; the owners who see the players taking a higher percentage of revenue than professional athletes in other leagues for a shorter season, the players who don't want to accept a pay cut while agreeing to add an additional two games to an already taxing season. What's going on here? While the rest of the country is still struggling with the aftermath of a recession, the NFL's median salary has risen to nearly $800,000 a year. The owners have found the values of their teams steadily rising. And the league itself enjoys record popularity and competition so healthy that five different teams have been crowned champions the last five years. There's no way they are going to throw this all away, right? Is this a classic case of wealth and insatiable greed? A fight for justice by athletes in the world of a brutal and increasingly thought to be dangerous sport? What would the fallout from a lockout look like, anyway? We looked around at the various issues surruonding the potential strike.

The NFL Should Be Careful "The league has reached a point of popularity and profitability that can be blinding," writes William C. Rhoden at the New York Times. "Trying to shoehorn 105,000 fans into Cowboys Stadium, and scrambling at the last minute to finish, is unlike the N.F.L. and contains a large dose of greed. Must you inhale every nickel? Must you charge $200 for fans to stand outside the stadium and watch on large screens?... A few more episodes like what happened in Arlington, coupled with a nasty lockout and the newly fashionable personal seat licenses, and the N.F.L. empire could begin a decline in popularity."

A Real F--- You "While the NFL players and owners worry about millions of dollars, we continue to worry about millions of people who have lost their jobs, been placed out of work or are now working significantly fewer hours than they were due to a suffering economy," writes GB Bongiovanni at Bleacher Report. "If an NFL Lockout does occur, it shows just how stubborn and selfish these players and owners are by taking away something that the general population loves and looks forward to season after season. The real problem is…there is such a desire for the National Football League that both the owners and players know they are holding the high card and we have nothing."

The NFL Owes Us Argues Steve Sterby at the NY Post: "The NFL owes every last one of its fans who have made it the Super Bowl champion of sports leagues. It owes them, owes us, no lockout...It has made its game an addiction for us. If it is truly the model sports league, it will refuse to allow greed to hold all of us hostage. Because it is playing with fire. Ask Major League Baseball about that. The NFL will be leaving its own coaches and executives in the dark. It will be screwing up free agency. It will be leaving its players to their own devices, playing catch on some godforsaken high school field somewhere. Most of all, it will be betraying the public trust."

Why Now? "This is entirely initiated by the owners," says Laura Clawson at the Daily Kos. "This collective bargaining agreement was extended for six years by a vote of the owners in 2006. Just two years later, they decided to opt out of the agreement, ending it two years early. The players just don't want to take pay and benefit cuts for a longer season that will make injuries more likely."

Owners Intent On Playing Hardball The main issue here is the 55% share of gross league revenues that the players negotiated from the owners in 1982. Roger Bybee at In These Times calls it "one of the most radical demands achieved by labor in the post-WWII period." That number is now closer to 60%, he says and the owners aren't having it. "The intransigence of the hard-liners [owners] was underscored by their decision to bring on management attorney Robert Batterman, who gained notoriety for the National Hockey League lockout that destroyed a full season," Bybee observes.

Both Sides Are Raking It In Here
Pat Garofalo at Think Progress cites some reports that show how each side is doing quite well financially right now. On the players: "Since 2000, the earliest year with data available, we calculate that the median NFL player salary increased by 79 percent, and since signing the 2006 extension, median player salary has increased by 9.4 percent, meaning that player salaries have increased even during very tough recession years..." says a study he quotes from the Center For American Progress. "Similarly, the owners have done quite well under the current agreement, despite their claims to the contrary. Since 1999, the year Forbes magazine started to value NFL franchises, the average franchise value has risen by 171 percent, so that by 2009, the average franchise was worth $1.04 billion....Since 2006 when the current CBA was signed, the average NFL franchise value has increased by 16.2 percent, a growth rate that is faster than the median player salary increase," the same study says.

Forget About The NFL "It's not that we don't like the NFL. It's just that we don't need it in our lives 365 days a year. The Super Bowl is over now. It should be a time for people to just breathe awhile," says Jim Carlisle at The Ventura County Star. "The league has its own cable channel and even NFL Network doesn't push pro football onto us during the offseason more than ESPN does. If you're like me and would just as soon not have to hear about the NFL every single day of the year, a lockout might not be such an awful thing."

Roger Goodell Faces His Biggest Test As Commissioner  "Goodell will have trusted lawyers and owners by his side during the negotiations, but make no mistake: This will be a deal the commissioner drives, in meetings both with the NFL Players Association and its head, DeMaurice Smith, and with leaders of the 32 franchises," says Peter King in his extensive profile of Roger Goodell in Sports Illustrated. "Goodell has become as much the face of the NFL as Tom Brady or Peyton Manning."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.