April 20, 2011
As most people expected, the mediation that happened between the NFL owners and players by way of the request of Judge Susan Nelson yielded little. And with the "about two weeks" deadline coming soon from the April 6 date of that request, U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan (the man in charge of the proceedings) has told both sides to put a kibosh on negotiations that have been more dog & pony-ish in nature than anything else until May 16.
"We're going to be back here on May 16 to continue the mediation, and I think everybody thinks it was helpful," NFLPA counsel Jim Quinn told the media after the ruling. "And that's really where we are … that's what the judge wanted, and we follow what the judge wants."
Of course, the league's spokespeople trumpeted the merits of negotiation over litigation, just as they have all along. Little wonder, since the next legal milestone in the ongoing labor struggle after Nelson's inevitable ruling is the May 12 ruling by Judge David Doty on damages in the lockout insurance case, where Doty ruled that the owners had sacrificed rights fees and other media assets belonging equally to both parties to strongarm television networks into guaranteeing revenue to the owners' side, lockout or not. That Doty went out of his way to overrule a prior ruling from Special Master Stephen Burbank is a pretty good indicator that he's about to slam the hammer down on the owners when judgment day comes around.
"There are a lot of uncertainties right now," NFL general counsel Jeff Pash said. "When we're back together, we'll know more. People's legal positions will be clearer. The network case is not a major factor, has never been a major factor, as far as our thinking goes.
"But we'll be back here ready to make a deal, because that's the only way that we're going to solve this problem, by having a comprehensive labor agreement, by setting out all the terms, addressing all the issues and getting it wrapped up so we're not spending all our time in court."
The real head-scratcher is what will happen with Judge Nelson's ruling. She could rule that the lockout is illegal based on antitrust principles, and most people expect her to, which would most likely put the case in the Court of Appeals. On appeal, the burden would fall to the players to prove the kind of irreparable financial harm generally required for damages in conspiracy cases of any stripe.
It is unknown what would bring both sides to the table with the will and wherewithal to make serious concessions and climb down off their platforms, but two Minnesota judges could answer that question very definitely in the next three weeks.
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