Yesterday's gloom and doom has been replaced by a sliver of hope.
At the same moment we were in the middle of a debate about whether the owners had committed fraud (I highly encourage you all to read through the comments yesterday as they are instructive), Federal Judge David Doty stepped in and tipped the balance of power in the struggle between the NFLPA and the owners.
In short, the owners had an obligation to negotiate the best TV contract possible to make the most money possible. The players sued them, saying that the owners traded less money (wait, I thought they were poor!) for the right to get money advanced them during the 2011 season in the case of a work stoppage. It was this money the owners planned to use as a 'war chest'. Because they'd still get 'paid' (they'd have to eventually repay the money for games missed), they could afford to cancel games as a way of putting the screws to the players.
Doty took that away and gave us all some hope that a deal can be reached before any games are lost.
Here's some of the best reading on the subject:
- Here's the actual ruling. There's a nice section at the front that summarizes the history of the dispute.
- There is no question the NFL acted illegally and
fraudulently. EDIT: as a legal point, the owners did not committ fraud, but rather breach of contract. Morally, it was fraud, but that isn't the word to use in a description of how the court ruled. I stand by the other uses of the word "fraud" and "fradulent"
- The NFLPA statement at the end is happy to point that out
- Mike Silver is hopeful for the first time in a long time. He says the fans are the real winners.
- A summary of where we stand now
- The owners lost their insurance policy
Many of you have noted that my tone about this dispute has been notably one-sided. I make no apology for that. This case is EXACTLY why I have not had any sympathy for any of the claims made by the owners. At no point have they been conducting good faith negotiations. I have nothing but contempt for Jerry Richardson (aka Archie), who is the co-chair of owners' bargaining committee. I think he is pugnacious and bent on the destruction of the union, with little interest in reaching a fair settlement. The details of the ruling are astounding. It's amazing to see the lengths the owners went to to strong arm the networks into the last TV contract. They have had a plan for last several years and that plan was to shut down the NFL.
This is not a case of 'both sides are wrong'. This is a case of one side wanting to destroy the other side and committing fraud to do it. For months, the owners have been claiming the game was on the path to economic destruction. The players said, "Prove it. Show us the books!". The owners said, "Trust us!". Now, we can all see why 'trust us' is a cynical answer to the request. As a unit, the NFL owners do not merit trust. They had an obligation to work for the good of their partners and get as much money as possible. Instead, they lied and cajoled their 'network partners' into a bad deal that did nothing but protect their own backsides. Their complaints about the NFLPA's mistrust must now fall on deaf ears. They do not merit trust, and no one can take anything they say seriously unless they open their financial records to prove their rather unbelievable claims.
I am not 'pro-labor' in general. In this case, however, it's been clear from the start that the owners have been steering the game of football toward a cliff. While Judge Doty does not have the power to cut power to the engine, he just poked a major hole in the gas tank. As I said yesterday, the courts were always going to be the best friend of the fans (and players) in this fight. The owners' actions have been nefarious, and only legal action could stop them from accomplishing their aim: total victory (as opposed to a fair deal). Yesterday, we caught the first glimpse of what will happen when their double dealings were exposed.
Still, none of this means we'll have a CBA come tomorrow night's deadline. Cooler heads must still prevail. The owners, stripped of their war chest, now must negotiate in good faith. If this ruling had come down three weeks ago, we'd have a fighting chance at beating the deadline. There still might be some kind of temporary impasse, but the odds of not losing any football games (which is the real end game) just rose significantly.
There's no deal yet, but for the moment, we can still hold out hope.