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Breaking down the talking points of the NFL labor stalemate

So, you're confused about the growing list of litigation related to the NFL's labor battle? Overwhelmed by all the motions, injunctions and rulings?

You're not alone.

Fans, above all, want football. But for the NFL's lockout to end and the 2011 season to begin, much of what's playing out in the courts might need to be resolved. Team owners and players have resumed collective bargaining talks in the past week, but with so many legal actions pending, the courts could impact the result.

To that end, here's a cursory look at the status of the many ongoing legal battles and some of what to look for in the coming weeks and months.

The mother lode

The details: The litigation with the most potential consequences is the lawsuit filed by the players accusing the NFL of violating antitrust laws. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and nine others are named plaintiffs. The case remains in its early stages, but the players are seen as having a reasonable chance of victory, one that would have far-reaching implications on everything from the draft to free agency.

Certain antitrust laws allow the NFL to engage in practices that would otherwise be considered illegal, like forcing players to subject themselves to a draft or the rules of free agency — as opposed to simply selling their services to the highest bidder. When the players union renounced its union status before the lockout began, it left many of the NFL's methods in jeopardy because antitrust protections can't exist without the involvement of a union.

Where things stand: The latest development in this case has the owners filing a motion to dismiss the suit. Part of the basis for their argument is their contention that the union's decertification was "a sham." Arguments on the motion are scheduled to be heard in August — just weeks before the season begins.

An illegal lockout?

The details: The players earned what (at the time) seemed a major victory when U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson ruled in April that the lockout should be lifted because it is not permissible under existing laws.

But owners have since rebounded. Two stays of that ruling have been granted until the appellate court makes a decision on the league's appeal.

Where things stand: A three-judge panel in the appeals court heard arguments on June 3 and will render a decision later. The panel is the same one that decided to grant the stay of Nelson's ruling by a 2-to-1 vote, seen as a good sign for the owners. But an attorney for the players last week suggested their side is willing to take the case to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

TV contract case

The details: This case, while not often discussed, is potentially pivotal. The NFL's players sued the league for negotiating television contracts with the networks that ensured payouts even in the event of canceled games this fall. The trade­off was a reduction in rights fees, money that goes into the revenue pie shared with players. That, the players argued, violated the spirit of the CBA, which required the league to maximize profits, and the courts agreed. Federal Judge David Doty has ruled that this year's $4 billion-plus in TV profits — "lockout insurance" as the players call it — was secured illegally.

Where things stand: Doty is mulling a decision on damages in the case, something that could undermine the owners' intentions to have the money at their disposal in the event the season is not played. Lawyers for the players argued last month that players should receive $707 million in damages in addition to their request that the NFL be prevented from accessing the money during a work stoppage.

Talking it out

The details: In the past week, talks have resumed between the sides, which is a good sign. This has been done, in part, because judges who have heard arguments on the various legal fronts continue to urge the parties to get back to the bargaining table. Much of the talks have been part of the court-ordered mediation that was called for in April in Minneapolis federal court. The various judges involved prefer that a resolution be reached independent of the legal system.

The negotiations won't stop the numerous court actions, but if enough headway is made to produce common ground on a collective bargaining agreement, the sides would presumably drop their respective lawsuits and do a deal.

Where things stand: In the past week, owners and players have been holding secret negotiating sessions near Chicago and in the New York area, reportedly without the help of their outside lawyers.

This is, perhaps, a sign each side recognizes it could suffer big setbacks if any of the coming court decisions go against them. We're a long way from a resolution, but this is the first reason for true optimism in quite some time.

Breaking down the talking points of the NFL labor stalemate 06/11/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 12, 2011 12:29am]
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