The combine is over, and at some point yesterday it sank in:
There's nothing left.
We've all been traipsing merrily along just assuming some kind of deal would be reached on the CBA. We've been talking about draft picks and free agents and who the Colts might sign, as if they were going to be able to sign anyone at all. We've been operating under the assumption that there is going to be football next year, and that whatever deal was eventually reached would look similar to past deals.
We need to abandon all those assumptions.
By all accounts, we are headed for a fight just as big and potentially just as damaging as the 1994 baseball strike. The parallels are eerie.
In 1994, the owners claimed the economics of the game were out of whack, despite record revenues and attendance. A small cadre of owners led by Jerry Reinsdorf were determined to break the union. They asked for unreasonable give backs from the players and engaged in collusive behavior that nearly destroyed baseball.
Flash forward to 2011, and we find the NFL owners doing the same thing. In a time of incredible success for the league, a small contingent of powerful men have conspired to hijack football to serve their own inexplicable purposes. Jerry Richardson, hereafter referred to as the "Arch Villain of Common Sense and Fans of the NFL" (or Archie for short), is leading a charge to break the union. Archie and his cronies have engaged in illegal behavior including negotiating TV contracts below market value in order to gain leverage over the players.
The 1994 strike was never actually resolved by collective bargaining. The courts finally had to step in and end the mess. The owners were soundly punished for their labor crimes, but fans blamed everyone. It wasn't until 1997 that baseball finally had a negotiated CBA.
Now, the NFLPA sits on the bring of decertification. Tellingly, this option terrifies the owners, whose only resort is to call the move 'a sham'. Decertification will allow players to sue the NFL as individuals, and in theory makes it more difficult for the owners to lock the players out. They still may engage in a lockout, but doing so opens them up to massive damages claims if the courts eventually side with the players.
By decertifying now, the union moves up the clock on court proceedings. If they wait until next week, they can't sue the league for at least six months. Because I don't believe the owners to have any interest in sanity, the good of football, or negotiating in good faith, I think this entire mess will eventually wind up in court. Frankly, starting the clock on court cases now is the best (only?) chance of us seeing football next year.
Archie and his cronies are intent on destroying the game we love and our tax dollars help to support. It's going to take an 11th hour miracle to stop an all out labor war in the NFL, and I don't see the loaves and fishes multiplying any time soon.
No city, no team, no fanbase stands more to lose than Indianapolis.
We have a new, publicly funded stadium.
We've spent millions preparing to hold a Super Bowl that may not be played.
We have a Hall of Fame quarterback with 5-6 seasons left in his career.
We have an excellent team poised for a championship run.
Maybe if our team was awful like oh, say...the Carolina Panthers, things wouldn't be so bleak. After all, for Archie (who owns the Panthers), losing a season is just a way to avoid 12 losses. But for the city of Indianapolis, Hoosiers across the state and fans of the Indianapolis Colts nation and world wide, this is a calamity. The owners are willing to destroy local economies, not to avoid losing money, but because they don't believe they are growning rich enough fast enough.
As fans, our last resort is to hope the courts come crashing down on the heads of the owners, and that they do it quickly.
There's nothing left to do but wait.