Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Where Do We Stand with the NFL Lockout?

Sorry for the delay in posting -- I've been on vacation in beautiful Portugal -- but I'm back now. So here is a little roundup of where things stand with regard to the NFL Lockout.

1) The players filed their brief in the Eighth Circuit. I won't go into much detail here, because the arguments are pretty similar to what they've been raising all along. A few people I've been in touch with think that this brief is very well written and persuasive, and that may well be true, but as one friend put it, it's mostly a matter of "packaging". The legal issues haven't changed, and the players (and owners) have been briefing these issues in one way or another for months. No one has said anything they haven't said before. (The players have pitched their argument in light of the Eighth Circuit's decision granting a stay, but the issues are fundamentally the same.) The owners filed a reply brief, but again, nothing earth-shattering.

2) The legal issues haven't changed. At the end of the day, the question is whether the union's decertification in March was a sham. The Norris-LaGuardia Act says that a court cannot issue an injunction -- for example, to lift the lockout -- when there is a conflict that "grow[s] out of a labor dispute". The owners say this lawsuit clearly grows out of a labor dispute, namely, the failed negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement. The players say there can be no labor dispute when there is no union. This divide runs through all of the arguments: If the decertification was valid, then the players almost certainly win. If not, they almost certainly lose.

3) We will see more heat than light on Friday On Friday, legal nerds will see two of the nation's greatest appellate lawyers argue a complicated case involving antitrust and labor law. But that won't tell us anything about how the Court will rule. Even on an expedited schedule, a decision could take weeks. It is very hard to gauge how judges will rule based on oral arguments, and judges almost never rule from the bench in an appeal like this. That said, we know where to focus. Judge Bye (the Democratic appointee) has consistently been on the players' side during the appeals process. He would have denied the temporary stay, and he would have denied the longer stay pending appeal, meaning he would have let Judge Nelson's order lifting the lockout stand. So we can safely chalk up one vote for the players. The players will have to swing one of the other two judges (both Republican appointees) to their side. Which one? We don't know -- the majority opinions (from which Judge Bye dissented) were unsigned.

4) The outsiders have started weighing in. Amicus curiae -- "friend of the court" -- briefs have been pouring in. Other major players' unions have filed papers supporting the players; the Chamber of Commerce supported the owners. Interestingly, the coaches have filed a brief supporting the players. One court decision I read described amicus briefs as briefs that anyone is allowed to file and no one is required to read. So I wouldn't put too much weight on these briefs.

5) Judge Doty is the wild card. If the owners can expect a receptive audience at the Eighth Circuit, the players have one with Judge Doty. Remember, Judge Doty held a hearing a few weeks ago to determine how much money the players should get because (he held) the owners negotiated a favorable deal for themselves with regard to certain TV contracts. If Judge Doty awards the players hundreds of millions of dollars, the landscape could shift dramatically. The players could offer to "give up" this money in exchange for concessions with regard to the lockout. By contrast, if the Eight Circuit rules for the owners, and Judge Doty's decisions hasn't come out yet (or if he awards the players very little money), the chips will be stacked strongly against the players.


Finally, remember: just because the NFL is on hold doesn't mean that football is! NFL football is exciting, engaging, and just plain fun. But if you're really into football, don't forget that football, even professional football, doesn't stop with the NFL. Arena and other leagues are gearing up around the country. College teams are putting pieces into place, with workouts and combines. Semipro teams nationwide play football twelve months out of the year. In New York, a youth football team (the Bronx Colts) and a semipro team (the New York Spartans) are holding a combine for players of all ages on Saturday, followed by a (free!) prime-time semipro football game under the lights just across the street from Yankee Stadium. (Disclosure: I'm the offensive coordinator of the Spartans.) All around the country, players and coaches young and old are in football mode. If any good will come of the lockout, perhaps it will be that some of these men (and women!) who work hard, simply for the love of the game and with little to no financial recompense, will get a bit of the spotlight.

So with that, my shameless plug: if you're in or around New York, come check out the Spartans take on the NYC Gators -- for free -- 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at Macombs Dam Park, just across from Yankee Stadium!