It looks grim now for NFL peace, but don't fret too much

January 22, 2011 

There is an extra incentive for pro football fans, no matter who they root for, not to miss Sunday's two playoff games and the Super Bowl on Feb. 6. Savor the experience, because there is a distinct possibility that come next September there won't be any NFL games to watch.

As the days dwindle down to March 3, when the current bargaining agreement between the owners and players ends, it appears a lockout is in the cards.

The rhetoric is beginning to build. Anti-trust questions have been introduced. Just this week, the NFL players' union filed a collusion claim against the owners.

The filing brought an immediate response from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

"It's more litigation," he said. "This is not going to get resolved through litigation. It will get resolved through negotiation. It's time to get to the table and negotiate."

The sides are far apart on major issues, including a rookie pay scale, a projected increase from 16 to 18 regular season games and, most importantly, the players' share of the revenue pie.

Everyone agrees that if there is a lockout in March it will be more difficult to reach an agreement. Yet, there have been no substantial negotiations since Thanksgiving. Not a good sign.

Goodell says "our clubs have prepared for all outcomes."

That's easy for Goodell to say, according to the union, since the league will receive $4 billion from TV revenues whether a season is played or not. Joe Briggs, the players' counsel for government relations, says the league improperly assured itself of TV revenue if there is a lockout.

I don't claim to understand that one, but if it is true, the owners are certainly in the driver's seat.

Meanwhile, there are stories that some players -- who are in a lower salary bracket -- are preparing by taking "second jobs" in the real world.

But think about all the other non-football people and businesses that would be affected -- stadium employees, DirecTV's NFL package, sports bars, the fantasy football market, sporting goods stores, Las Vegas bookmakers, beer distributors and so on. Lots of money on the line.

What will network television do to fill the void on Sunday afternoons in the fall?

Actually, I think I have an easy answer to that one.

College football, of course. I'll bet some conference commissioners and ESPN folks are already talking about the possibilities of switching some games to Sundays.

And don't you think baseball commissioner Bud Selig is silently wishing for at least a delay in the start of the pro football season? Say, until after the October World Series, which in recent years has been losing the TV ratings game.

Having said all this, I do not really anticipate the 2011 NFL season will be shortened. There may be a lockout and it may be lengthy, but somehow the billionaire owners and the millionaire players will find a solution before the first scheduled regular season game next September.

You see, Goodell is so much smarter than Selig in dealing with players unions. For starters, the threat of a lockout comes six months before the scheduled start of the 2011 season -- plenty of time to settle matters.

In contrast, when the World Series was cancelled in 1994, Selig and the baseball owners demanded a salary cap throughout the season. The hostility and mistrust between the players and owners had grown so fierce by August the players walked out.

The strike lasted 234 days and baseball became the first and only U.S. sport to lose its postseason to a labor dispute.

Trust me, that won't happen with Goodell at the helm.

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