During a week that was expected to entail plenty of posturing and preening regarding the ongoing labor issues between the NFL and the players union, there has been a surprise development that gives the NFLPA a modest-but-powerful chunk of momentum.
Per multiple reports, Special Master Stephen Burbank ruled Monday that the league will not be permitted to pull the plug on the supplemental revenue sharing program with the advent of the uncapped year.
The NFL had insisted that the device for dividing unshared revenue streams (like luxury suites) was intended to apply only in years with a salary cap — and more importantly a salary floor. As multiple league sources had explained it, the intent was to give low-revenue teams an extra boost when dealing with a per-team spending minimum driven up by the large dollars that some of the teams reel in. Thus, with no salary floor, there was no need to give the low-revenue teams a little help.
But if that was the intent, it wasn’t sufficiently expressed in the written document.
“The Special Master basically rejected every single argument that
management made and regardless of how the league characterizes the
decision, this is a victory for players, for low revenue clubs and the
fans,” NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler told Chris Mortensen of ESPN.
Said NFLPA Assistant Director of External Affairs George Atallah, via e-mail: “A day that the players get a ruling that preserves the revenue sharing model that is the foundation for the growth of the NFL is a good day for the game and for the fans.”
As a practical matter, the ruling had no impact on 2010, since the 2009 payments have not yet been made. In other words, even if the plan had been discontinued, the low-revenue clubs would have still gotten paid this year.
But now they’ll get some money in 2011, too. “These clubs can now budget for beyond 2010,” Kessler said. “The union
was concerned about their incentive to spend with an uncapped year and
a looming lockout by the owners in 2011. [Management] can try to
diminish the value of the supplemental pool but it represents a
significant dollar amount for those affected clubs. This means a more
vibrant outlook for players, teams and fans and now we’ll monitor how
the market behaves.”
In other words, if the union doesn’t believe that teams are spending enough money on players, the union will be more likely to claim that the owners have agreed, implicitly or otherwise, to restrict 2010 spending in order to bolster the 2011 work stoppage war chest. Such an agreement would constitute collusion, and it’s strictly prohibited.
So stay tuned. The league plans to appeal the ruling, but the decision will be made by Judge David S. Doty, the man whom the league tried last year to have removed from his position of supervising the implementation of the labor agreement. Though Judge Doty likely won’t display any obvious bias, the legal system presents a lot of close questions, and a skilled jurist can find a way to get to any decision that he or she deems to be the preferred outcome.
In other words, the league probably is gonna get hosed.