“Lockout insurance” case goes to trial on Tuesday

We’d heard rumblings that the union’s attempt to block the league from pocketing ongoing payments from the various television networks during a lockout would soon result in a full-blown trial.

We had no idea how soon it would be.

Dan Graziano of AOL’s FanHouse reports that a special master will take up the case on Tuesday in New York.

Graziano explains that the special master (presumably, Stephen Burbank) will “review the complaint” filed by the NFLPA on Tuesday.  As we understand it, the procedure will be far more detailed, with witnesses being called to testify and evidence submitted on behalf of both sides.

The gist of the union’s argument against what it calls “lockout insurance” arises from the notion that the league traded guaranteed payments in the event of a work stoppage for more money or other terms that otherwise could have been obtained via the negotiation process.  The union claims that, because the league and the players share the total revenues generated by the sport, the owners have a fiduciary duty to maximize the revenues.

It’s actually not a bad argument.

The mere existence of the claim gives the league a reason to work out a new labor deal, as does the looming possibility of a collusion case.  We’ve previously explained that the NFLPA’s first goal was to persuade the owners that the current financial formula isn’t as bad as the league believes it to be, and that Plan B entails creating as many pressure points as possible to give the owners an incentive to relent in their apparent effort to reduce significantly the slice of the pie that the players get, even if it means shutting down the start of the 2011 season.

And while the owners surely would scoff at the merits of arguments based on the television contracts or collusion when it comes to signing players, there’s no denying that the NFL isn’t thrilled with the current structure for reviewing certain controversies under the labor agreement.  The CBA emerged as the settlement agreement to the antitrust lawsuit filed by the players after the union decertified following the failed strike of 1987.  Judge David Doty has retained jurisdiction over the CBA for nearly 20 years, with Burbank providing the first line of analysis and resolution when the two sides have a dispute that falls within Burbank’s (and, above him, Doty’s) jurisdiction.

The league has tried to have Doty disqualified due to allegations of bias in favor of the union.  Which means that the league is concerned that Doty won’t give them a fair shake.

Which means that the league must accept and acknowledge the possibility that Doty will see things very differently than the owners do when it comes to matters like “lockout insurance” and/or collusion.