The NFL’s coaches have not yet attempted to form a union. Though that day may eventually come, the trade association that represents the league coaches has taken its boldest action to date, filing a “friend of the court” brief in support of the players’ attempt to lift the lockout.
The brief, refreshingly limited to only 14 pages and largely devoid of jargon, mumbo-jumbo, and/or gobbledygook, characterizes the league’s legal strategy in defending against the Tom Brady antitrust lawsuit as “attempting an end-run around” the 2010 American Needle decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which stands for the notion that the NFL represents not one business but 32, making it subject to the Sherman antitrust law. More specifically, the coaches argue that the Norris-LaGuardia Act should not generally prevent court orders lifting lockouts, explaining that the league’s reasoning would apply to every possible labor dispute even if the employees contesting a group boycott (i.e., a lockout of a non-union workforce) had never been unionized.
Though the coaches have every reason to be concerned that they eventually will occupy the shoes of the players in an antitrust fight against the owners, the coaches may have overplayed their hand a bit by attempting to argue that they collectively will suffer irreparable harm if the lockout chews significantly into the ability of new coaches to be competitive in 2011. The NFL, like every professional sports league, represents a zero-sum proposition, with a winner for every loser, and a good team for every bad one. Thus, each year the coaches of the worst teams face the possibility of termination.
To the extent that the new coaches will be more likely to struggle in 2011 absent a full offseason, training camp, and preseason, that dynamic actually benefits the members of the NFLCA who are working for established coaching staffs. In other words, the 2011 season (if there is one) will yield good teams and bad teams, exposing the coaches of the bad teams to replacement. In that regard, 2011 will be no different than any other year, regardless of how long the lockout lasts. If anything, the truncated preparation time could help give the coaches of the bad teams a persuasive excuse for avoiding the hot seat, potentially resulting in fewer firings than in a normal year.
Regardless, the brief represents a clear, concrete, overt action by the NFLCA against the NFL, which could be a precursor to further efforts aimed at protecting coaches against heavy-handed ownership actions, either via the formation of a union or the filing of antitrust lawsuits. In the end, the fact that this brief could be a precursor to organized against by the coaches against the owners could be far more significant than anything said in the document itself.