On late Monday afternoon, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its ruling that the owner-imposed National Football League lockout, which has now reached its 66th day, will continue through the appeals process. The stay overturns Judge Susan Nelson’s earlier ruling which lifted the lockout pending the appeal, currently set for June 3rd before the 8th Circuit. The appeal will be heard by the same three judges that granted the owners a stay and put an abrupt end to league business, which doesn’t bode well for the NFL players and their former union. Two of the three judges basically ruled that they don’t believe Judge Nelson had proper jurisdiction to hear and rule on the lockout case.
So where does that leave us now? The leverage has swayed toward the owners after the 8th Circuit’s ruling. The sides met for mediation Monday and Tuesday, but little progress was reached regarding the pending appeal. The players may gain some momentum when Judge David Doty rules on the TV lockout case, where they are seeking $707 million. Judge Doty has been an advocate for the players, but it is certain that the NFL will appeal that ruling to the 8th Circuit, which brings us back to square one.
As of right now, no 2011 NFL draftees (other than the first rounders) have visited their new teams or attended rookie mini-camps, no undrafted free agents have been signed, and there are over 900 veteran free agents without new homes. Players aren’t receiving checks or able to rehabilitate their injuries at the team facilities, and the 2011-2012 NFL season is getting close to being in serious jeopardy of not happening.
The only way this situation is going to be resolved is through mediation. There have been four judges with vastly different interpretations of the law. Since the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) decertified to avoid the lockout, the court must supervise all future mediation sessions. After their sessions on Monday and Tuesday, the next scheduled sessions between the NFL and the NFLPA lawyers are scheduled for June 7, days after the June 3 expedited appeals hearing.
League spokesman Jeff Pash felt that progress was made in this week’s talks, but the NFLPA only acknowledged that talks had occurred. It has been reported that the owners presented the players with an offer that was worse than the final offer presented them in March before the eventual decertification and lockout. The owners are flexing their newfound leverage on the players.
So what are the options for the players? They can either 1) apply pressure to Union executive director DeMaurice Smith to get a deal done as we get deeper into the summer and players start to miss game checks, or 2) dig in and trust the former Union to reach a deal that is fair for all parties, even if it means missing part of the season. No matter what they decide, it’s safe to say that these two sides have a very fractured relationship that’s going to take a lot to repair if we want football on Sundays this fall.