McCourt agreement ultimately settles nothing

Tim Brown

LOS ANGELES – After so many hours – a majority of them billable – at the far end of a three-decade marriage and a 20-month divorce, Frank and Jamie McCourt, yes, have agreed on something.

They left a downtown courthouse here Friday morning with a settlement plan, which would be fine, except it would appear to settle almost nothing.

None of this is over until Bud Selig says it's over.

And now the commissioner is deep enough into his own billable hours to suspect Frank McCourt might indeed be wily enough to secure one mansion out of the many formerly owned by the couple, but probably is the wrong guy at the wrong time for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Frank and Jamie McCourt, pictured here in 2008 before their divorce, reached a settlement on Friday.
(Getty Images)

As Major League Baseball's investigation into McCourt's finances winds down, and as another payroll deadline creeps up, and as the Selig-appointed monitors shop for longer-term housing, there is nothing to suggest Friday's settlement will last the month.

First, it is contingent on Selig's approval of McCourt's media rights deal with Fox, a deal – about $3 billion over 17 years – many believe is below market value and negotiated by McCourt from a position of desperation.

Second, assuming Selig does not scuttle the deal in the coming days (all but putting McCourt out of business), it rests on Judge Scott Gordon determining the Dodgers belong to Frank and are not community property.

Those are two good-sized hurdles, particularly the one in which Selig comes to the conclusion that future television-rights money is best spent on past debt and current divorce expenses at a time Dodger Stadium is half-empty and while the underfunded ballclub leaks into last place.

The proposed Fox transaction includes a $385 million loan to McCourt and the Dodgers. Of that, according to Friday's tentative settlement, $235 million will go toward the Dodgers, less as much as $23.5 million McCourt already borrowed from Fox to make previous payrolls. The rest will be used to help pay off attorneys, both Frank's and Jamie's, along with $80 million for "indebtedness."

Separate from that loan, Jamie also gets $100 million, tax-free, about half due in two years. And most of the houses. She would cede the Dodgers to Frank and sign off on the Fox deal and generally get out of Frank's hair.

Jamie had challenged Frank's authority to partner with Fox without her approval, and also had asked the court to force Frank to sell the franchise, arguments she relinquished in Friday's binding term sheet. With the agreement, then, Major League Baseball is free to rule on the Fox contract, now unchallenged by Jamie.

The existence of the hearing in August, however, in which Gordon is to rule on the community property issue, will be problematic for Selig. According to the settlement, if Gordon were to deem the Dodgers community property, the franchise would be sold. In that case, the next Dodger owner would be wed to a broadcast package negotiated by the previous owner, potentially devaluing the Dodgers and their holdings.

So, in the coming days, Frank will ask Selig (again) to approve a deal for a franchise that could be sold off in mid-summer, yet the consequences of that deal would live on for 17 years.

Meantime, without the Fox money there are grave concerns about the Dodgers making their July 1 payroll. In that event, MLB would cover those costs with the likely stipulation McCourt sell the team. If he refused, the league would seize the team and sell it.

Selig is expected to announce his decision in the coming days, probably early next week.

What awaits is the result of Selig's investigation, and whether Selig – after appointing a monitor and therefore undermining what was left of McCourt's credibility in Los Angeles – could after eight weeks return the Dodgers to McCourt's care.

McCourt's inability to reach a settlement, and the ugly spectacle that had become the divorce, were among Selig's – and the other 29 owners' – concerns about the Dodgers for months. Now there is a settlement, one Selig could bless with a $3 billion rubber stamp. The league-wide anxiety remains, however, and, in fact, has grown, so that an 11th-hour agreement in an L.A. courthouse had almost no bearing in a New York high-rise.

From 20 months of acrimony, the McCourts get their moment of optimism, one that might even extend through the weekend.

But that's probably all they'll get.

Their settlement has settled nothing.

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