USA TODAY US Edition
To litigate, or to negotiate?
NFL’s Pash: ‘I didn’t think we were that far apart’
NEW ORLEANS — Between the court filings and trash talk, there were encouraging words heard at this week’s NFL owners meetings.
A collective bargaining deal is there to be made between owners and players — if only they can get back to talking.
“I really didn’t think wewere that far apart when they walked out on us,” NFL chief negotiator Jeff Pash said. “I’m certain the only way anything is going to get done is at the bargaining table.
“I’ve said many times, if people come to the bargaining table with a shared commitment to try to accomplish that result, we can do that.”
The league filed court papers Monday seeking to thwart the players’ attempt to invalidate the lockout. That plea will be heard in federal court April 6.
The NFL wants U. S. District Judge Susan Nelson to allow its complaint with the National Labor Relations Board — which states that the union’s decertification was a sham — to be considered before she rules on whether to stop the lockout.
The union, which decertified March 11 hours before the league locked the players out, says it can no longer engage in direct discussions with owners on a CBA unless it is done through class counsel.
In effect, the league would have to talk to the players’ attorneys and engage in what amounts to settlement talks over their antitrust lawsuit.
Howdoes all the legalese translate for fans? “We expect there to be a 2011 season,” New York Giants co-owner John Mara said. “I felt we were reasonably close on a lot of the important economic issues when the players walked away. Andwewould have been willing to stay and continue talking. But they chose to walk out and pursue the litigation strategy.
“We’re willing to sit down with them as a union whenever. At some point, we’re going to continue collective bargaining. “It’s just a question of when.” After NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith sent a letter Monday to league counsel Gregg Levy saying the players would be willing to continue negotiations with class counsel, it seems players are confident they can win their injunction to lift the lockout.
“I think I do know what their strategy is: Try to get this April 6 injunction and increase their leverage,” Mara said.
By the same token, the owners’ legal team convinced owners they have a strong chance to win their filing with the NLRB to continue the lockout.
The mantra on both sides seems to be, “See you in court.”
“It’s unfortunate we are where we are,” Washington Redskins player representative Vonnie Holliday said. “The good thing is under antitrust laws, as individuals, we have the right to work and to earn a living. It’s up to the courts to decide. I think the courts will rule in our favor.
“I believe there will be a football season next year. Just under what system, we’re not sure.”
Hall of Fame quarterback and current Denver Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway weathered the three-game players strike in 1987 but is confident no football will be missed.
“I have the same feeling being on the owners’ side as I did as a player: The game’s too great, too popular, and eventually both sides will come together and get a deal done,” Elway said. “I don’t anticipate us missing any games.”
Sports business consultant Marc Ganis said there were three scenarios to getting a deal done:
-The first scenario starts with, “One party or the other starts winning the major court battles.”
Should the league get the NLRB to rule “a sham decertification, the antitrust suit immediately goes away,” which means the parties would be back negotiating. “And they will find an agreement at that point,” the president of Chicago-based SportsCorp said.
-In his second scenario, “The antitrust case goes forward, injunction granted, league appeal fails on the TV money. . . . Then, you negotiate, with the players having a lot of leverage.”
-In the final scenario, the meter on players’ bills is running. The longer the work stoppage goes, the greater the burden.
“We start getting into August, September, and players are expecting paychecks,” Ganis said. “Their families need to know where they have to live.
“That pressure becomes significant in the context of the offer the owners put on the table. It’s a basis with which to negotiate.”