League, union agree to federal mediation

Last March, Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Journal first raised the possibility of federal mediation as a solution for the current labor mess.

“We have no plans for mediation,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Mullen at the time, “and we are a long way from having to even consider it.   The goal is for our negotiations to be successful before reaching that point.”

And they’ve now reached that point.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has announced that the league and the NFLPA have agreed to allow the agency to be involved in the process.

“I have had separate, informal discussions with the key representatives of the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association during the course of their negotiations for a successor collective bargaining agreement,” agency director George H. Cohen said in a written statement, according to Mark Maske of the Washington Post.  “At the invitation of the FMCS, and with the agreement of both parties, the ongoing negotiations will now be conducted under my auspices in Washington, D.C., commencing Friday, February 18.

“Due to the extreme sensitivity of these negotiations and consistent with the FMCS’s long-standing practice, the Agency will refrain from any public comment concerning the future schedule and/or the status of those negotiations until further notice.”

Mediation is a non-binding process, which has become increasingly popular over the last three decades as a tool for resolving civil litigation.  Basically, courts require the parties to give it a try, and that they proceed in good faith.  In this case, the parties have decided to do it on their own.

A mediator has no power to issue rulings or resolve disputes or otherwise say or do anything to force an agreement.  But a mediator has the ability to speak candidly to the parties about the weaknesses of their position and the realities of the predicament and to serve as a devil’s advocate of sorts in order to get each side to be more objective.

Last year, Cohen helped Major League Soccer strike a deal with its union.

There’s another huge benefit to the process.  The presence of a mediator will make guys like Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler less inclined to say or do things that could be viewed as problematic or belligerent.

The fact that the two sides have agreed to allow a third party to be involved indicates a willingness to try to strip away the personalities and the other impediments in the hopes of finally getting to the issues and getting a deal done.  And it allows the mediator to, if necessary, ask someone who acts up to leave the room.

Cohen’s first task?  Finding a solution to the parties’ apparent impasse regarding whether and to what extent the league will open the books.

The process begins tomorrow.  Whether or not they’ll ever agree, the fact that they’ve agreed to use mediation means that they at least agree on something.

38 responses to “League, union agree to federal mediation

  1. Players and their reps are uneasy about the move. Many are worried that the Feds won’t release them from the meeting room afterwards.

  2. Does any major business open up it’s books to it’s employees? This is a business just like others and don’t agree they should open them. Do you open your’s up to your fellow bloggers on the payroll? Did NBC open up their’s when they started investing in pft? I doubt it, so don’t ask fellow business owners to do the same thing.

  3. So how much will this cost the fans (taxpayers)? I doubt a mediator will be able to change either sides mind on core disagreements like 18 games, revenue distribution, rookie wage scales, etc. So this is just a way for the taxpayers to help the NFL with their PR problem.

  4. alas, they meet in the middle on something…..lets hope this moves it along quickly….DONT LET FOOTBALL GO AWAY!!!! i hate baseball….

  5. I may be dreaming, but I see this as a very positive sign. It could be window dressing, but I don’t think so.

    For one, this seems like a pretty serious dude, and I don’t think he’d agree to get involved if he thought he was being used as a publicity stunt.

    Two, I may be the only person left on the planet that has always believed that this would be resolved before any games were missed next year.
    There is simply too much at stake.

    So I will take this as a sign that both realize this and know it’s time to get serious.

  6. Let’s stipulate that every team is profitable

    Let’s stipulate further that some teams are under the current system VERY profitable…

    Both sides would agree to both stipulations – but the owners still want – demand a new deal….

    Now please explain to me what good it does “opening the books”?

  7. When does binding arbitration become part of process. In some collective bargaining situations this is a possibility.

  8. Nonbinding means no teeth which means an exercise in futility. How about arm wrestling where the winner doesn’t get anything and the loser doesn’t lose anything. This is just Vaseline for the fans.

  9. i just want football,i think most of us do.I don’t care how the split the money we give to them,just get a deal done any deal i don’t support either side,but if they bitch and moan until there is no season i still wont have a side,i will hate both the owners and players for keeping me from seeing my favourite sport.sort it out guys.If not i’m gone from the NFL forever,rich guys crying over how they want to be richer,please spare me!

  10. This indicates that Goodell and Smith had a one on one discussion and realized they weren’t going to get anywhere anytime soon.

    Good move to get a respected mediator involved.

  11. I think mediation is the path with the greatest probability of leading to an on-schedule 2011 season.

  12. @hobartbaker – 3 of the first 4 replies…minutes apart from one another…all lame jokes.

    I thought I told you to step away from your computer and go find some friends. Dork.

  13. So does this mean negotiations are back to square one while Jerry Richardson explains revenue charts to the new guy?

  14. Does anyone what the potential impact of the situation in Wisconsin would have on the Packers? If the law passes would the players not have the right to be in a union in the state? Or is it just state workers?

  15. I’ve never played Fantasy Football where we use college players.

    Looks like 2011 will be a brave new world….

  16. I for one believe this is a very positive step. I was beginning to believe the two sides were going to let their greed overlook the whole reason they’ve gained their wealth in the first place – the fans. I’ve been following this closely as I’m sure most of you have – we should be inclined to think such a measure proves the nfl and nflpa are more willing to communicate more so than I was lead to believe as recently as yesterday. Very positive step indeed!

  17. the owners must be desperate to go this route!
    they were going to lock the players out and that was it! maybe the owners figured out how stupid goodell (a.k.a.) pinnochio really is! i hope the guy gives the players 55% serve them right!

  18. jamie54 says:

    Does any major business open up it’s books to it’s employees? This is a business just like others and don’t agree they should open them. Do you open your’s up to your fellow bloggers on the payroll? Did NBC open up their’s when they started investing in pft? I doubt it, so don’t ask fellow business owners to do the same thing.


    1) Yes. Every publicly traded company MUST publish audited financial statements. In other words, these major businesses “open their books” to all employees, investors, potential investors, competing businesses, etc.

    2) Privately-owned companies are not obligated to disclose their financial statements. Every NFL team (except Green Bay) is privately-owned. So they have every right to keep their books shut from their employees, etc.

    That said, I would challenge you, jamie54 or anyone else, to provide ONE current example of another major business in which the owners are demanding that their most essential employees accept a 20-30% annual pay decrease in their next union agreement while at the same time refusing to disclose any financials beyond revenues.

  19. I sometimes just cannot believe the disdain that Americans(I’m not one) have for their government. Try living in a developing country to understand how bad governments can really be. I understand that your government is not perfect but the lack of faith is just deplorable.
    Half the clowns on this board just go ballistic on seeing the words Obama or federal government in a post w/o bothering to think about it for a moment.

  20. The previous agreement terms split profits with players at 60% for players and 40% for owners yes?

    That’s just crazy.

    Maybe thats a contributing factor in the disgusting behavior of way too many players in the last decade.

    I see these guys usually a lot of talent with troubling issues, and hope they could get their heads straight. Instead end up having to endure a lot of disapointment. It really takes away from my appreciation of the game.

    A losing team can be endured, but a league of knuckleheaded, selfish, clowns as players won’t be endured, it is disrespectful to the game.

    A 50/50 split would be right and not empower the the players with issues to further act like buffoons.

    While the NFL had a good year, the NFL has a lot of competition to garner fan interest going forward.

    We greatly appreciate the players that not only respect the game, their home cities, and communities but themselves as well.

  21. brucehumbert says: Feb 17, 2011 4:14 PM

    “Let’s stipulate that every team is profitable
    Now please explain to me what good it does “opening the books”?”

    The owners have never said that, in fact they’re doing everything in their power to -avoid- saying that.
    They’re playing the “victim” card.

  22. This could be the smartest thing that has happened yet. Obviously they weren’t getting things done by themselves. So now they will sit for 7 days straight and better get this thing hammered out.

  23. I’ve been calling for federal mediation from the beginning. Have the 32 owners and the union heads meet at the White House for a beer summit. Maybe even a pickup basketball game on top of it.

  24. @FuzzieGrowler – can’t help but start w/you again…because once again you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    A deal may not be reached, but this step is clearly the only way that a deal will be reached. I have participated in many, many civil mediations & have seen many hopeless cases resolved through the process. DeMaurice Smith undoubtedly also has a wealth of experience civil mediation from his private practice days.

    For one thing, the mediator will keep both sides talking. That is key. I have literally tried to walk out of the room in several mediations, but the mediator is able to keep the discussion going.

    Also key is that parties will no longer be dealing directly with each other. They won’t be in the same room. So you won’t have any more jerry richardson unpleasantness…or owners walking out without replying to a proposal. The mediator will demand that the parties reply to one and another, and he will at least get that.

    What is also key is that each side speaks to the mediator confidentially. That is also important, because while staking out a position, the parties will “telegraph” their true position (always leaving soom room) to the mediator. He will then have a better idea than either side as to where the true middle is in the negotiation. The mediator’s most important role – besides keeping everyone talking – is to use the additional information he has to move each side towards each other…and to make creative suggestions that he know has some possibility of working, but each side does not. This also allows the mediator to quickly resolve tangential issues that are played out in the media, but are not really a matter of concern to either side. The mediator should be able to focus on the really divisive issues and work to get those resolved. The other stuff then falls into place & does not cause a distraction from getting the real disputes resolved.

    These parties have established that they cannot negotiate directly in good faith and/or without acrimony A third-party is the best and only way this will get resolved…and a LOT can get done in seven straight days of talks. A whole, whole lot.

    …or maybe not….not every dispute is capable of resolution, and if this does not work, then start watching baseball, because we will be in for a LONG lockout. But rest assured that this is the best news to come out of these negotiations so far…and it’s our last, best hope as football fans.

    …and lastly, this is NOT the federal government taking over the negotiations. I agree that we are too harsh on our government relative to what the rest of the world has to deal with, but also agree there’s plenty of room for criticism…but fear not…this is a mediation service, not a government takeover!

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