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For labor dispute, midnight may not come on March 3

GoodellSmithCongress AP

We’ve been saying for nearly two years that one of the biggest challenge when it comes to sorting out the labor mess comes from figuring out precisely when the clock strikes 12.

Unless and until both sides believe that they are facing Threat Level:  Midnight, neither side will move toward its bottom-line position.  If one side makes the move prematurely, the other side will then try to squeeze the first side even lower.

A recent item from Jon Saraceno of USA Today addresses the issue.  “I don’t know if the union has the intention of getting it done by then,” sports business expert Marc Ganis told Saraceno.  “March 3 might not be a relevant date for them.”

It’s a fair point, but it may not be a relevant date for the league, either.

Though the league has huffed and puffed about offseason revenue losses that will be realized absent labor peace, possibly in an effort to get the union to believe that midnight is approaching even if it isn’t, the two sides have yet to roll up their sleeves and engage in intensive meetings aimed at getting a deal done.  And it sounds as if not enough owners have come to the conclusion that it’s time to get serious about engaging in serious negotiations.

Commissioner Roger Goodell apparently is trying.  “The main message he wanted to get across to owners was that we need to get serious at the bargaining table,” Steelers president and co-owner Art Rooney, II, told Saraceno regarding Goodell’s comments during recent ownership meetings in Texas.  “I would hesitate to describe his attitude as frustrated, but certainly we’re heading into a critical timeframe in terms of getting this done.  I think he recognizes there is a greater sense of urgency.”

Ganis believes that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has an incentive for dragging his feet.  “I suspect [Smith] has concluded that he cannot, in his first contract, agree to any modifications that the league is asking for unless he first appears very tough and takes both parties over a cliff,” Ganis said.

Others have privately expressed a greater degree of skepticism, theorizing that Smith’s personal agenda and aspirations compel him to take the union into a lockout, so that he can declare that his prophecy has been fulfilled — and so that he can acquire the maximum publicity that comes from being involved in a very public labor battle.  Union sources dispute the notion that Smith is thinking in whole or in part about his own interests, whatever they may be.

From the owners’ perspective, their collective interest in paying the players less money makes an offseason lockout more and more likely.  Indeed, the players won’t break until they start missing game checks, which means that a lockout that wipes out the offseason and chews into the regular season may be the only way that the owners will get what they want.

That’s why the message from the union hasn’t changed much if at all in the past year.  “The players offered to play under the existing contract and [the NFL] said no,” NFLPA director of communications Carl Francis told Saraceno.  “They have asked for more than a billion dollars in give-backs per year, but they continuously refuse to open their books.  We have offered to extend the deal many times.  They hold all the cards to getting a deal done and so far they continue to ask for capitulation on money with no proof [of need], and for players to sacrifice health and safety.”

So while we continue to look for reasons to be optimistic, the tea leaves are pointing to a lengthy process that consumes most if not all of the offseason, and beyond.  If the NFL and the NFLPA fail to do a deal by March 3 and if the NFLPA doesn’t exercise its ability to decertify and block a lockout and if the NFL doesn’t declare an impasse and impose unilateral work rules on the players, the union won’t cave simply because the offseason workouts have come and gone, or because training camp has been scuttled.  They’ll cry “uncle” only after their sugar daddies stop paying them, and that won’t happen until Week One of the 2011 regular season has come and gone.

With no offseason or training camp, it means that once the players decide that they’ve lost enough paychecks, they’ll lose two or three more during a truncated training camp that will be critical to the preparations for a meaningful football season.

That’s the real problem.  The owners want to dramatically change the player compensation system.  The players won’t feel the heat until they start losing compensation.  By the time the players start losing compensation, it may be too late to throw together something that looks like organized offensive and defensive football.

In other words, when midnight finally arrives, it may be too late.

That’s why someone needs to stand up and show true leadership on the owners’ side of the table — and why the NFLPA’s Executive Committee needs to behave not like De Smith’s personal squad of cheerleaders but as a group that will engage in the application of foresight and logic and reason in the hopes of ensuring that the two sides wake up before irreparable harm is done to the long-term interests of the league.

Though artificial deadlines won’t matter, committing to meaningful and ongoing negotiations can’t hurt.  Both sides need to agree to wall off at least a month for meetings aimed at getting the deal done.  Via the process of conducting continuous good-faith bargaining sessions, a consensus can emerge, without De Smith having to be gratuitously tough in order to secure credibility with the rank and file and without the NFL having to force the players to miss a game check or two before they’ll make the kind of concessions necessary to reach a consensus.

And both sides need to realize that they are the stewards of a game that has survived for decades before them, and that will thrive for decades if not centuries after they are gone.  They need to know that history will judge them harshly if their failure to put the interests of the game above their own interests undermines the momentum that the sport has accumulated.

I’ve got a weird feeling that not nearly enough of them care about that.  At least not yet.

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22 Responses to “For labor dispute, midnight may not come on March 3”
  1. tombradyswig says: Dec 27, 2010 4:06 PM

    Don’t screw up this cash cow!!!!!!

  2. gypjet says: Dec 27, 2010 4:12 PM

    I hope to God that the people who “run” football will be grown ups and not hurt the game and fans because of idiocy.

  3. greymares says: Dec 27, 2010 4:15 PM

    i have been a fan for 55 yrs. if one game is lost i’m gone forever.

  4. hobartbaker says: Dec 27, 2010 4:21 PM

    Mad as a March hare.

    “Hayeww? Did someone say hayeww? Where is that wascally wabbit?”.

  5. profootballwalk says: Dec 27, 2010 4:28 PM

    I knew a guy who worked in a shipyard. Every contract, the unions would go out on strike, and lose money while they were out. And every time they got their raises and came back to work, they netted a loss of money. Think about that – the raises they got never made up for the regular salary they lost while they were on strike. But every time, knowing what would happen, they went out on strike anyway. That’s what union leadership can get you.

  6. hobartbaker says: Dec 27, 2010 4:40 PM

    If Smith stays out past midnight, he changes from DeMaurice Smith, dripping bling in 10k Armani suits while riding in limos, to Mo Smith rocking off the rack synthetics while waiting for cabs that refuse to stop.

  7. mad55555 says: Dec 27, 2010 4:44 PM

    Mike,
    Why would you write such a long article about something no one really cares to read. I understand it is important but truthfully after the first paragraph, I passed on the rest which is probably a lot more than 90% of your readers probably read. If you want people to care to read these articles on the labor going-ons, you need to make them bullet points or lists of what you want people to know. Not these long drawn out articles of legal mubo jumbo. I kinda want to know what’s going on but it’s not worth my time or any of your other casual readers time to care enough to read all of this.

  8. mean13 says: Dec 27, 2010 4:56 PM

    All unions suck and Smith is an idiot.

  9. mistrezzrachael says: Dec 27, 2010 4:58 PM

    Becoming increasingly obvious that De Smith is going to hang the players.Majority of players are on $3-700,000/year w/a only a few years of that. Thats why 70% go thru bankruptcy.

    Not to mention the veterans seeking another year or 2…goners.

    Any losses incurred to owners, will come out of players %…so they do not win. Owners will survive on TV guarantee…players will not.

  10. randolph32 says: Dec 27, 2010 5:01 PM

    My love for baseball was gone after their last STRIKE, I just didn’t care anymore….barely bother to play Fantasy, and I’ve been doing that for 25 years!

    They just don’t realize how people find other things to do with their time…even the gamblers will find another outlet, believe it or not.

  11. polegojim says: Dec 27, 2010 5:04 PM

    I have a tough time understanding either side in this big business battle.

    At some point, how many millions are too many for any of these guys?

    Players in Pro sports should be paid for performance, not for showing up. That said, they provide significant entertainment and make millions for owners, so should be paid handsomely.

    Sadly – the fan will pay the price for everyone, and the ‘nose bleeds’ will also be ‘wallet bleeds’, as affordable seating will be a distant memory.

  12. melikefootball says: Dec 27, 2010 5:05 PM

    I wonder if God-del can see in front of him that he may not have helped the way he handled business this year…oh yea remember he cares about the fans.

  13. meatball13 says: Dec 27, 2010 5:14 PM

    Both sides need to talk and not posture and get this done,compromise from both sides will be necessary !!! DO NOT LET STUBBORNESS AND STUPIDITY MAR THE GREATSET GAME THERE IS !!

  14. ruggerlad says: Dec 27, 2010 5:19 PM

    If rookie salaries go down (which they should) so should ticket prices. Rookies should not come in to the league and have a top 10 salary for their position. Salaries should be performance based, players can hold out if they play well but get paid anyway if they are useless even after they are gone (Jemarcass Russell). Also enough of this protect the players shat, you are ruining the game pretending you care (everyone knows owners don’t want to have to pay injury replacements and are trying to create another bargaining chip). Bargaining chips – rookie salaries, illegal hits, longer season. Big hits come with the job!
    My hopes:
    1) THERE IS A 2011/2012 SEASON
    2) new illegal hits rules go away
    3) rookies stop getting paid before producing and vets get raises when they deserve them (more performance incentives)
    4) season stays 16 games – I’d rather 16 games of tackle football than 18 games of touch football!!!!

  15. bigdogsolec says: Dec 27, 2010 7:35 PM

    OK , this IS CRAZY, someone needs to get goodell out before he turns this game to TOUCH FOOTBALL.
    OWNERS need to shut up an pay the players that RISK THERE LIVES EVERYTIME THEY STEP ON THE FIELD” pay em millions, there 1 hit away from death or paralisis” . look at baseball ,”when has anyone ever even ben paralized playing that game , or basketball “. os fans love the …….. ahhhhhhhhh screw the rest not gonna help any anyways, goodell might as well turn USA FOOTBALL INTO USA SOCCER

  16. cappa662 says: Dec 27, 2010 7:47 PM

    Seems like an anti union, anti d smith, anti player article.

    I think the union would like to get something done, if not decertification would work too.

  17. nsevh76 says: Dec 27, 2010 8:43 PM

    It surprises me to no end how many people are pro owners on this issue. They didn’t play the Vikes/Phillies game on Monday because ESPN didn’t want the competition. I understand ESPN here, but it comes down to money. The owners want to play 2 more games so they can make more money.
    The owners say they want to do away with two of the pre season games to make the schedule right. Okay, reimburse the money for pre season games that they’ve overcharged for to this point. They want to expand the rosters by one player to justify the two more games. Okay, pay one more minimum salary player to gain revenues for two games.
    Yet they claim to be losing money without wanting to prove it. If my contract says I get a percentage of the revenue, then I want to see the revenue. If they’re telling the truth they got nothing to hide.

  18. goldsteel says: Dec 27, 2010 8:54 PM

    Is there some point to all this?

  19. kfech says: Dec 27, 2010 8:57 PM

    I think the premise that any of the primary actors care about their place in history is flawed. The typical fan (myself included) can not tell you who was at fault during the last work stoppage and, 10 years from now won’t be able to tell you who was at fault for this one.

    I’m sure everyone cares much more about what people will remember in the short term if they are perceived to be on the “losing team” in labor negotiations.

  20. deadmanwalking47 says: Dec 27, 2010 9:31 PM

    there will still be games,just it will be scabs playing them,and not the players we know and love!

  21. godofwine330 says: Dec 29, 2010 12:36 PM

    The 18 game schedule doesn’t benefit the players at all. The owners already rake in regular season ticket prices for preseason games where soon-to-be UPS drivers and UFL players get most of the playing time. I am a die-hard football fan and I am hoping that the 16 game schedule stays.

  22. sintaxair says: Dec 31, 2010 1:37 PM

    profootballwalk says:

    I knew a guy who worked in a shipyard. Every contract, the unions would go out on strike, and lose money while they were out. And every time they got their raises and came back to work, they netted a loss of money. Think about that – the raises they got never made up for the regular salary they lost while they were on strike. But every time, knowing what would happen, they went out on strike anyway. That’s what union leadership can get you
    —————————————————
    I completely understand what you are saying, but you have to compare what would have happened had their been no raises, and if benefits had been cut. A strike and loss of work would be worth it in the long run.

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