NFL, Players Spar Over CBA as TV Money Lawsuit Concludes
"Any suggestion that we want a lockout is coming from outer space," NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen said.
Meanwhile, closing arguments were scheduled Thursday in a case before a special master in which the union is challenging roughly $4.5 billion in TV revenue that it claims the owners plan to use as "lockout insurance." The NFLPA has argued that owners took less money than those deals were worth in exchange for guarantees that the deals would pay off even if no games were played in 2011, thereby shirking their responsibility to maximize the value of those deals for purposes of generating revenue that is shared with the players. A decision on that case could come as early as next week, and while the losing side would have the right to appeal, a ruling in favor of the players would result in the $4.5 billion being held in escrow until a new CBA is negotiated.
The league has been unusually aggressive in its public comments on CBA matters since that case got underway early last week, raising speculation that it fears losing the case. And certainly, the fact that the union is engaging in such a tactic could feed into Batterman's argument that the players are more interested in litigation than in negotiation. But as Indianapolis Colts center and union executive council member Jeff Saturday pointed out in the union's conference call, none of this would ever have happened had the owners not opted out of an agreement that ran through 2013 in the first place.
"All we're doing is reacting," Saturday said. "Everything we do will be because the owners put us in a position where we now have to react. We're all ready, willing and able to get a deal done."
Union chief DeMaurice Smith has said since spring of 2009 that he believes the owners intend to lock out the players when the current deal expires on March 4. Batterman said in the Washington Post story that that's only one option the owners have if no deal is reached by that date. The players, who fear the expiration of health benefits for themselves and their families once the deal expires, have in return called upon the owners to guarantee that there won't be a lockout. But they cite the hiring of Batterman, who's credited with engineering the lockout that forced the NHL to cancel an entire season, as evidence that a lockout has been the plan all along.
"The word 'lockout' was never even in the NFL's vocabulary until Mr. Batterman came aboard," Berthelsen said. "Players want to play. The NFL is not like Mr. Batterman's last client, the NHL, which at that time was swimming in red ink. The NFL is doing extremely well. All indicators are positive. So we say, whatever problems there might be out there, let's discuss them, but let the games go on."
If the owners are planning a lockout -- and if they are planning to help fund it with that disputed TV money -- they're counting on the idea that the players will not hang together and will cave in once they start missing paychecks. But the union is talking tough on that, saying this isn't like past labor disputes, which were player strikes that crumbled as a result of disunity.
"Our players understand the history of this game and this organization," union president Kevin Mawae said. "And unlike what's happened in the past, when one player's locked out, every player is locked out. I believe our players are more united now than at any other time in the history of the NFL."
Of course, the owners are saying the same thing. So, with less than two months left before the CBA expires...we'll see.