Will There Be NFL Football In 2011?

March 23, 2011

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As we stand on the cusp of baseball season, football still manages to take center stage. Usually, it’s just the scouting combine and draft getting all the coverage on sports talk radio. Now there’s also the lockout. Who is in the right and who is in the wrong?

I personally think there’s enough blame to go around. The union recently decertified in an effort to make the league subject to anti-trust legislation. I’m not a legal expert on the matter, but it seems that the NFL has anti-trust exemption if the players are represented by a union, but do not have this exemption if the players are not part of a union – the un-unionized players are allowed to file lawsuits in court.

Not surprisingly, at least one owner (Rooney of the Steelers) has suggested that it might be prudent for the National Labor Relations Board to take a look at this. Does the practice of having the players hop in an out of the union depending on which is better at the moment constitute an unfair labor practice? I would say yes. You’re either a union, or you’re not. You have to take the good with the bad. And does anyone actually believe that the players are not still unified, despite not being in a “union”?

That’s not to say the owners are blameless. They have been very reluctant to open their books. This is troublesome for the players, since the collective bargaining agreement gives the players a 60% share of revenues in excess of one billion dollars. If the union is unable to determine what the actual revenue for the league is, then they can’t determine that their share is.

I’m admittedly not an expert on the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, but it seems that the players are going to have to drop their no-union charade and the owners are going to have to open their books. Why not have the owners and players agree on an independent audit from a CPA firm. The firm wouldn’t need to share details, just state that revenue is $X. And while you’re at it, get a commissioner that is truly an unbiased mediator instead of one that basically serves as president of the owner’s group (this flaw isn’t unique to the NFL).

Or the NFL could just drop the salary cap and allow teams to bid freely on players. I hate salary caps, since they don’t exist in the real world. Imagine that you’re a programmer at Microsoft, and you can’t get a raise because the League of Computer Companies sets a salary cap that every company must abide by. It’s not that your employer doesn’t want to pay you and your co-workers more, they simply aren’t allowed to. Weird, huh? Yet, this is standard in team sports. Baseball is the holdout, with no hard salary cap. Baseball teams that exceed a certain payroll level must pay a luxury tax, but nothing prevents them from spending $500 million on payroll. (Yeah, I’m a fan of a small market team and am opposed to salary caps. Weird, huh?).

Personally, I’m on the fence. I’ve been a Vikings fans for many years, but have largely ignored the NFL for the past two years as a result of Brett Favre playing for the Vikings. I’ve lost quite a bit of interest, and really don’t miss the games very much – and if there is no football this year, I’m probably gone for good.

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