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Judicial oversight of settlement shouldn’t be a sticking point for NFL

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During a recent edition of PFT Live, we discussed the four big issues in the ongoing labor talks.  There’s a widespread belief that, once the two sides find a way to resolve the biggest sticking point — splitting up the money — the rest of the deal will fall together like a tightly-configured row of upright dominoes.

But there’s one issue that will require one side or the other to completely yield.  And it’s the one issue that is the least interesting to the non-lawyers in the crowd.

The labor deal that expired on March 11 arose from the settlement of the Reggie White antitrust lawsuit.  As a result, certain types of disputes arising under the expired CBA were resolved first by a special master, then by presiding Judge David Doty, and then by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.  The NFL, convinced that Doty is biased in favor of the players (and presumably inclined to feel that Judge Susan Nelson feels the same way), wants to end any and all judicial oversight of the CBA.

Earlier this year, multiple sources indicated that the issue represented a true dealbreaker for the league.  Even now, indications remain that the NFL will not agree to any settlement over which the federal courts retain supervision.

For four separate reasons, the NFL should find a way to give up on this point.

First, every labor agreement contains a mechanism for resolving disputes.  So whether it’s Judge Nelson or whether it’s an independent arbitrator, someone other than the NFL and the reconstituted NFLPA will have final say over the application and/or interpretation of the agreement when it comes to the various fights that may arise.

Second, the issues that landed in the federal court system often arose not from a dispute regarding the application of the CBA to the facts, but from the specific meaning and intent of certain portions of the labor deal.  With the use of foresight, the lawyers should account for most of the potential issues that could arise in advance, minimizing the circumstances in which the language of the CBA allows for two possible outcomes.

Third, the Eighth Circuit has proven to be, from the league’s perspective, an acceptable umbrella for the Minnesota federal courts.  Thus, while it may take some extra time to bring these disputes to a conclusion, the NFL should realize that, when push comes to shove, fair consideration will be given to their arguments.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, these fights are rare and insignificant in the grand scheme of this multi-billion-dollar business arrangement.  Once, maybe twice per year, the league and the NFLPA square off on an issue that lands before Judge Doty.  Is it really worth refusing to do a deal in order to fight for an arbitration process that would still subject the league’s interests to a potentially arbitrary or, in the league’s view, flat-out erroneous reading of the labor deal?

Since the two sides are working hard to find outcomes that would allow both parties to win at best or save face at worst, the league should be willing to agree to a system that permits ongoing judicial oversight, but only as to a very narrow band of potential disputes.  If that can’t be accomplished, the NFL should have no qualms about abandoning its opposition to judicial oversight, even if only to persuade the players to make the leap of faith that comes from taking a smaller piece of an ever-growing financial pie.

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16 Responses to “Judicial oversight of settlement shouldn’t be a sticking point for NFL”
  1. commandercornpone says: Jun 11, 2011 3:30 PM

    depends who the judge is. if is that union* suckup in minnehaha, forget it.

  2. airraid77 says: Jun 11, 2011 4:16 PM

    once again, another biased and pro player tilted story……
    You were one of the guys who said that judge wrote a decision that the 8th circuit couldnt over turn, WRONG.
    THE owners once again dont owe, the fans or the players one damn thing. NOT ONE.

  3. smacklayer says: Jun 11, 2011 4:30 PM

    MF, it is all from the point of view you are looking. It seems to me that the NFL is sick and tired of courts deciding labor problems. Any time the NFLPA has a problem, they run to Minnesota and sue and win because of the union loving judges there. I find it perfectly reasonable that the NFL would like to keep the CBA out of the courts and in resolve issues thorugh independent mediation.

  4. Rhode Island Patriots Fan says: Jun 11, 2011 4:34 PM

    If I were an owner—perish the thought for the League’s sake, this issue would be priority No. 2, second only to revenue splitting.

    I think Mike conspicuously overlooks in his assessment that the appellate court is compelled to give deference to the district court under certain circumstances. Remember the whole past discussion about the “standard of review” to be used by the Eighth Circuit? The “de novo” (anew) review re: errors of law vs. the “abuse of discretion” standard that attaches to findings of fact by the lower court? In practical terms, that means the district court judge is not likely to be overturned on findings of fact. That’s huge. True, in the grand scheme of things, these legal disputes are few and far between. (Thankfully, right?) But, as we’ve seen these last few months, when these occur, they can be real doozies, and spell the difference between labor peace and unrest.

    If judicial oversight must continue under the new CBA, as I think it will, I would at a minimum insist on a new venue (within the Eighth Circuit) for the lower/district court—say, the Eastern District of Missouri. The NFL has a physical presence there, and there are plenty of Democrats who sit on the federal bench, so the players should feel safe.

  5. sabeybaby says: Jun 11, 2011 4:55 PM

    The NFL should do everything possible to get out from under those two liberal clowns Judge Duty & Judge Judy.

  6. mick730 says: Jun 11, 2011 5:11 PM

    Liberal judges start off as liberal politicians. In America, that means they’re democrats. From whom do democrats get the largest portion of their funding? Labor Unions. It’s a corrupt system. No way will the NFL again put themselves under the thumb of liberal judges who are bought and paid for by labor unions.

  7. blantoncollier says: Jun 11, 2011 5:12 PM

    It’s posts like this that make it hard to ignore this site’s bias in favor of the players. The reason we are in this place is because the players always have the courts to run as a place of last resort. Had Dee stayed at the table and worked on a deal rather than rolling the dice on the courts, we wouldnt be in this sorry state. Until the players take responsibility for working on a deal and agreeing to stay out of the courts the NFL will never have labor peace.

  8. wannabeqb says: Jun 11, 2011 6:51 PM

    I can see why this appears a biased article but the reality is there has to be a neutral 3rd party to resolve certain situations. I can’t really think of a better candidate than a federal judge. They can understand the legal aspect of CBA (whatever that turns out to be) and their rulings can be binding throughout all the states the NFL operates in (I assume that’s what the “federal” part means, although I’m no expert on these matters).

    That judge will either have Republican or Democrat leanings. I think it’s a bit funny that pro-owner commenters think a judged biased in favor of the players is the greatest miscarriage of justice in history but one in favor of the NFL is just being fair and equitable!

    My opinion is that if the players agree to take less money, which I believe they will, it seems quite reasonable that they pick the 3rd party. Until it is finalised we wont know what the terms of the new CBA are but I don’t think the NFL will have given up much compared to the last one.

  9. timtheenchanter1 says: Jun 11, 2011 7:53 PM

    blantoncollier says: Jun 11, 2011 5:12 PM

    It’s posts like this that make it hard to ignore this site’s bias in favor of the players….Until the players take responsibility for working on a deal and agreeing to stay out of the courts the NFL will never have labor peace.

    I still do not understand the Pro-Billionaire bias of so many posters here. The comment above makes no sense whatsoever and frankly goes against the facts.

    When the owners had a complete upper hand, there was repeated labor strife. There were 3 separate work stoppages in 14 years (’74, ’82, ’87).

    Only when the players took the matter to court in 1993 did the playing field level enough for there to be lasting peace (18 years). This notion that it is the use of the courts that causes labor strife is simply unfounded.

    The real cause is that the rich owners are no longer willing to revenue share enough for the good of the league to allow the cheap and/or small market owners to meet the salary floor based on the current percentage of revenues. They are trying to force a system that lets Mike Brown continue to run his team on the cheap and lets Jerry Jones keep the difference as pure profits. But the deal they are pushing for will only be a temporary band-aid.

    Until the revenue sharing issue is resolved, we will have repeated labor strife as the NFL will have to force continued concessions from the players to keep the likes of the Bengals, Bills, Jags and Lions viable and competetive as the revenue disparity between owners grows.

  10. lostsok says: Jun 11, 2011 8:21 PM

    “airraid77 says: Jun 11, 2011 4:16 PM

    once again, another biased and pro player tilted story……
    You were one of the guys who said that judge wrote a decision that the 8th circuit couldnt over turn, WRONG.
    THE owners once again dont owe, the fans or the players one damn thing. NOT ONE.”

    That could be THE least accurate post ever barfed up in PFT comments. THE owners have received millions and millions of dollars in tax money, which has made many of them even richer; they have received an anti-trust exemption that puts them in a rare and exclusive position in our socio-economic system; and, finally, they are the least-important component to this entire scenario.

    Replace Jerry Jones with Mark Cuban or replace Dan Snyder with Donald Trump…there would be ZERO change in the game.

  11. kom2k10 says: Jun 11, 2011 8:24 PM

    Why on earth would the owners shake hands on a deal with the players, while at the same time know that the players are doing their best to sue the pants off of them w/ some B.S. lawsuit???

    In my opinion, splitting the money and dropping this lawsuit should be priority 1A and 1B!

  12. eagleswin says: Jun 11, 2011 9:18 PM

    wannabeqb says:Jun 11, 2011 6:51 PM

    I can see why this appears a biased article but the reality is there has to be a neutral 3rd party to resolve certain situations. I can’t really think of a better candidate than a federal judge. They can understand the legal aspect of CBA (whatever that turns out to be) and their rulings can be binding throughout all the states the NFL operates in (I assume that’s what the “federal” part means, although I’m no expert on these matters).

    That judge will either have Republican or Democrat leanings. I think it’s a bit funny that pro-owner commenters think a judged biased in favor of the players is the greatest miscarriage of justice in history but one in favor of the NFL is just being fair and equitable!

    My opinion is that if the players agree to take less money, which I believe they will, it seems quite reasonable that they pick the 3rd party. Until it is finalised we wont know what the terms of the new CBA are but I don’t think the NFL will have given up much compared to the last one.

    ———————————

    First off, i strongly disagree with you. Secondly, you contradict yourself. If the NFLPA picks the third party, it is not neutral. It will be one they think favors them.

    It’s quite easy to see why it’s biased. One has to look no further than the Lockout TV Money case. The grievance was heard by an independent third party (that the players agreed to and was specified in the CBA). The judgement went against them so they ran to a judge who was favorable to them.

    If the NFLPA can ignore the independent third party whenever they don’t like the answer, what’s the point? Also, to appeal judgements through the court system can be an expensive and time consuming process which we can all see from the current proceedings.

  13. palinforpresidentofnorthkorea says: Jun 11, 2011 9:39 PM

    PFT can thank Dee Mo for taking the NFL, the NFLPA* and the fans for a ride on the drama wagon.

    All the talk of war, for the ground-breaking players of the past, walking away from the table, de-shamifying, and filing multiple lawsuits in Federal Courts were all about ==> leverage.

    Thanks for the drama Dee Mo Reece. Now let’s get some damn snacks and play football!

  14. airraid77 says: Jun 12, 2011 5:50 AM

    you dont buy pro football teams with tax payers money…..
    the owners have leverage for the stadium tax deals…and they pay more in taxes in one year than you and I will pay in a life time more than likely.
    take out the owners of the franchises and put you in with your current earnings, how much are the players making? are you going to pay them 60 pct of your total revenue? I don think so. are you going to pay for them not to work after they are done playing? I DONT THINK SO.

  15. Derty Ernie says: Jun 12, 2011 8:35 AM

    I cannot recall one judge ‘deemed to be liberal’ ever siding with the other side in a union and or political dispute. Their decisions are biased, we know they’re biased because they know why they were appointed to the bench and by whom.

    A judge who proves over time that their record is solidly liberal has a shot at least of getting the important cases and a possbile shot at the surpremes some day. People are human and moving up the ladder applies to judges as well.

    If the players thought they had a good case why not pick a less liberal court to go to? This whole mess is a joke similar to whats going on in Wisconsin where the lib judges flat out prevent laws from being enacted that go against unions.

  16. eagleswin says: Jun 12, 2011 11:28 AM

    In regards to the courts being the final arbitor i’d also like to point out the starcaps case where the players were able to appeal to the minnesota courts and got their suspension delayed by 3 years. Some of the players have retired since that case started and they all made their money during the lengthy appeals process. There’d be essentially no way to suspend anyone.

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