The NBA reportedly may withhold paychecks for players during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And that will surely make NFL players nervous about their own compensation, if the situation ultimately wipes out pro football games.
But there’s possibly some good news for NFL players. The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement specifically addresses these situations with a “force majeure” clause. The CBA between the league and the NFL Players Association contains no such provision.
Here’s the relevant language from the NBA’s CBA: “’Force Majeure Event’ shall mean the occurrence of any of the following events or conditions, provided that such event or condition either (i) makes it impossible for the NBA to perform its obligations under this Agreement, or (ii) frustrates the underlying purpose of this Agreement, or (iii) makes it economically impracticable for the NBA to perform its obligations under this Agreement: wars or war-like action (whether actual or threatened and whether conventional or other, including, but not limited to, chemical or biological wars or war-like action); sabotage, terrorism or threats of sabotage or terrorism; explosions; epidemics; weather or natural disasters, including, but not limited to, fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornados, storms or earthquakes; and any governmental order or action (civil or military); provided, however, that none of the foregoing enumerated events or conditions is within the reasonable control of the NBA or an NBA Team.”
The NBA’s CBA sets forth specific procedures for cutting off payment if a “Force Majeure Event” transpires. It also includes a provision allowing the NBA to terminate the entire agreement within 60 days of the “Force Majeure Event.”
The NFL’s CBA has no similar language. This would support a fairly basic argument that the teams owe the players their money even if there’s no season. Which would result in roughly $200 million per team being paid to players, with no revenue to offset the expense.
The league surely would come up with some sort of argument to justify not paying the players, language of CBA and individual player contract notwithstanding. Too much money would be riding on the outcome to not cobble together the best possible argument and throw it against the wall, hopeful that it would stick.
The mere fact that a fight on this point would entail more than $6 billion in player compensation shows that the NFL would do everything it can to play the games, even if those games happen without fans in attendance.
Of course, games without fans in attendance would in turn create a mess for 2021, since the reduced revenues would cause the salary cap to plummet, forcing most teams to dump player contracts and then re-sign those players (or sign other players) at significantly reduced compensation.
Regardless of how it plays out, the NFL and its players will have a clear mutual interest find a way to play the games. Ideally with paying customers in attendance.