The timetable for the NFL and its players to end their labor dispute and avoid missing games next season just got tighter.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals set the hearing for the appeal of the Brady et al vs. NFL case for June 3. While the court has yet to rule on whether or not it will grant a stay of the injunction and allow the NFL's lockout to proceed until the appeal is resolved, the date for the hearing means that the three-judge panel in the Eighth Circuit may not rule until July.
"There is not a strict timetable on when decisions are announced," said Michael Gans, the clerk of the Eighth Circuit. "The court recognizes the importance to both sides to get this case resolved as quickly as possible, but there is no way of knowing exactly how long it will take. It could be two weeks, four weeks or even longer."
Gans said the ruling could come in a shorter period of time if the judges rule and then submit their opinion later. However, the worst-case scenario could put the league and the players in a bind to get training camp started in time.
The only other thing that could alter that timetable is if Judges Kermit Bye, Steven Colloton and Duane Benton denied the NFL its request for a stay until the appeal is heard. Last Thursday, the judges voted 2-1 (Bye dissented) to give the NFL a temporary stay and are in the process of reading briefs submitted by both sides to determine if they will extend the stay.
Gans said he expected a ruling on the stay as early as Tuesday, but nothing had been announced as of then.
If the NFL gets a stay of the injunction that Minnesota District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson gave the players last week, then the lockout will continue. If not, the NFL will be forced to lift the lockout and start the league year while it goes through the appeals process.
Lifting the lockout would mean that players would be able to go back to work and the league would have to start signing unsigned players. The league would likely impose the 2010 rules, which included no salary cap (or floor) and six years for players to reach unrestricted free agency, among other things.
However, the fear for the league is that free-agency rules and other rules, such as the franchise tag, could expose the NFL to anti-trust violations. Therefore, lifting the lockout would put some pressure on the league to get a deal done with the plaintiffs, a deal that would likely lead to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
On the flipside, the process could go even longer even after the Eighth Circuit rules. Both sides have the power to ask all 11 active judges in the Eighth Circuit to hear the case and rule on it. In addition, the case could be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
In short, for all the fans who chanted "We want football!" during the first round of the NFL draft last Thursday, the wait figures to be awhile.