Here's the deal in a nutshell:
The team owners opted out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to change their relationship with the players. The owners want to reassert ownership control, especially over revenue, that they negotiated away over time. The 2006 extension especially left the owners feeling like players' agents negotiating vast revenue from broadcast revenue. Now the players feel like "partners." I mean, who elected them partners?
The players argue that they are the football product, that they are elite performers in a high risk business with short career lives. Fans follow them more than they follow teams. Their share of broadcast revenue is fair and appropriate and arrived at by agreement with team owners.
The players have a point. In the age of the Internet and fantasy football, personalities may indeed trump teams as the value of the league. The owners are having a tough time perceiving the shift. It's hard to see how Chad Ocho-Cinco Johnson could have survived an old schooler like Bill Parcells in the 1980s, much less St. Vincent Lombardi. But player personalities have a following that transcends whatever uniform they wear.
None of this makes a wit of difference in a legal battle. The NFL is in court today because that's where you go when parties cannot reach agreement, whether it's labor, contracts, divorce or treaties. Treaty disputes can lead to war. That's where we are now, a legal war.
I'm following Maury Brown on the bizoffootball.com to explain the legal moves. His latest, 10 Must Read Read Questions About the NFL Antitrust Hearing, lays out the points-counter-points the two sides will argue before Judge Nelson. It is tough, arcane reading, but better than reading the actual legal briefs.
I just pretend it's another episode of Law and Order. It helps.
An easier read is Rich Tandler's piece on CSNWashington.com, NFL: Court today, free agency tomorrow? Rich skips the legalities to highlight what Judge Nelson might do this week.
Fans watch sports to get away from these very same workday, employer-employee issues. They want to see the lockout end, free agency begin, so that we can get our football fix to escape the workday issues or our daily lives. Rich warns against expecting a quick decision.
When the cat's out of the bag
The owners are in this predicament because they rushed to extend the CBA in 2006 after spending an inordinate amount of time on big market-small market revenue issues that are still unresolved. The players' share of broadcast revenue and the salary cap are killing small teams. Because the owners accepted that deal then, it is hard to roll it back now.
The two sides are in court seeking negotiating leverage for negotiations that will resume at some point. It is best to let this process reach conclusion. That didn't happen in 2006. That's why we are here now. Rushing to coble a deal together now will just haunt everybody later.
We could see a delay in the start of the football season. (Boo. Hiss) But the owners are at the least vulnerable point of losing fans over this. Both the NBA and the NHL face prospects of lockouts and the delay of their seasons. There's little else for sports fans to go.
I wonder if the Bogus Championship Series will air games on Sundays?