UPDATE: The NFL -- as I discussed previously -- raised four points in its brief. The first of these arguments was that the Norris-LaGuardia Act divested the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear the case at all. Judge Nelson rejected this argument, but it looks like the League will find a more receptive audience on appeal. The Court wrote today, "In sum, we have serious doubts that the district court had jurisdiction to enjoin the League’s lockout, and accordingly conclude that the League has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits."
So what does this mean for football? In the short term, nothing. The lockout will continue; free agent signings will not begin; hundreds of undrafted rookies languish in a gray area between college and the pros. However, we will see a significant shift of leverage away from the owners. The Appeals Court has said that the owners are likely to prevail on their appeal. The question now for the players is whether they want to roll the dice in court in June, or if they are willing to settle on what they see as unfavorable terms. If the players are willing to give up ground, we may see a pretty swift resolution of the entire case. However, if they are going to dig in their heels, then we may be in for a long ride.
What does this mean as a legal matter? The Eighth Circuit's decision is notable because it focuses the scope of the argument on appeal. To grant the stay, the Court had to find that the League was likely to prevail -- but it only had to be likely to prevail on one of its claims, not necessarily all of its claims. As a result, the Court (having found that the League was likely to prevail on the Norris-LaGuardia Act theory) did not discuss any of the other theories. The players will have to convince the Court on June 3 that the Act does not apply.
The next step for the Court was considering "irreparable harm" to the two sides. The Court concluded that both sides face serious harm, whether the lockout is in place or not, and thus the scales do not tip clearly in favor of the players, as the District Court wrote. Although it is not entirely clear from the discussion, the Court suggests that, because it is a "close call", it will allow the status quo to remain in place.
Judge Bye dissented, as he did before (with regard to the temporary stay). He wrote that the harm to the players was much more significant, and reiterated what he wrote earlier -- that a stay pending appeal is an extraordinary remedy and should not be granted absent special circumstances. Presumably Judge Bye will vote in favor of the players on June 3. But the players' attorneys will have their work cut out for them with the other two judges.
What is the next step? The appeal will be argued on June 3. Normally, an opinion might take months to issue, but the Court implied that it would decide the appeal during the off-season. And with the legal issues pretty well briefed and reviewed by now, we could see a decision within weeks of argument.