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NFL in Freefall

April 26, 2011

What was once the crowning achievement in U.S. sports is rapidly becoming a laughing stock of embarrassment for fans and other onlookers across the world stage.

At issue is the inability of the players, represented by the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), and the owners to come to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

I remember back in 1982 and 1987 when the players went on strike. Remember the “Replacement Player” games where owners put hastily hired replacements on the field in place of striking regular players? If it was a game of chicken on the gridiron, the players blinked. Support for the strike faltered and within days collapsed in the face of dwindling player support.  Bewildered and angry fans of pro football took their ticket dollars elsewhere. It took a good three years for the league to recover from that nastiness.

Those were tumultuous times for the NFL and the NFLPA who suffered humiliating defeat in the courts in the aftermath of the 1987 strike. For more details see: 1987 strike and decertification at wiki.

So here we are twenty some years later revisiting old wounds and tailspinning off a players lockout. On April 25th, Federal Judge Susan Nelson sided with the players and ruled the lockout illegal, weakening the owners position. This sets up a battle that will be played out in Federal Court as the league tries to secure its position within the communities they operate in. In her ruling the judge effectively deemed the NFL — too big to fail.

League commissioner Roger Goodell, in an April 26th Wall Street Journal article, gave us a view of the NFL without a CBA.

Goodell wrote:

Under this vision, players and fans would have none of the protections or benefits that only a union (through a collective-bargaining agreement) can deliver. What are the potential ramifications for players, teams, and fans? Here are some examples:

• No draft. “Why should there even be a draft?” said player agent Brian Ayrault. “Players should be able to choose who they work for. Markets should determine the value of all contracts. Competitive balance is a fallacy.”

• No minimum team payroll. Some teams could have $200 million payrolls while others spend $50 million or less.

• No minimum player salary. Many players could earn substantially less than today’s minimums.

• No standard guarantee to compensate players who suffer season- or career-ending injuries.Players would instead negotiate whatever compensation they could.

• No league-wide agreements on benefits. The generous benefit programs now available to players throughout the league would become a matter of individual club choice and individual player negotiation.

• No limits on free agency. Players and agents would team up to direct top players to a handful of elite teams. Other teams, perpetually out of the running for the playoffs, would serve essentially as farm teams for the elites.

• No league-wide rule limiting the length of training camp or required off-season workout obligations. Each club would have its own policies.

• No league-wide testing program for drugs of abuse or performance enhancing substances.Each club could have its own program—or not.

Unlike days of old there are way too many options in the sports world to waste my time on the NFL as they continue to shoot themselves in the cleats. Between NASCAR, NCAA Football and Basketball, and The Food Network, my weekends can be easily shifted away from the greed and ugliness now entrenched in the players and the owners.

I’m convinced the arrogance of the NFL will be their downfall as fans depart en masse for other entertainment options. The Super Bowl could easily become the Super Dud and I wouldn’t shed a tear.

They brought it on themselves.

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