Good afternoon everybody. I'm coming to you live from 35,000 feet on my Virgin America flight from San Francisco to Washington, DC. I'm heading out to DC for Memorial Day weekend but thankfully my flight has wifi access. It's $10 for access, but for a five hour flight I'd say that's not the worst deal in the world. At the very least it affords me the opportunity to put a post together.
I like the idea of having new posts consistently throughout the day, which means I spend a good deal of time poking around the Internet for story ideas and breaking news. As I scour the Internet right now, all I'm seeing today is lockout stories. And really it's not even lockout stories, it's commentary and discussion about what is not happening at this point. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the media in Indianapolis during the owners' meeting today and I found one of his comments rather interesting. Goodell was asked whether there was a specific date at which point the Hall of Fame game and preseason games would start to be cancelled. Surprisingly, Goodell said there was no such date but that it was obviously fast approaching.
Color me a little confused on this one. The owners and players have proven they really only seem to do serious negotiating (if you can call it that) when they are pushed up against a deadline. I've heard some dates mentioned (Colts owner Jim Irsay mentioned July 4 as such a date), but nothing official has been stated. That blows my mind at this point. A lack of a specific date leaves things floating in the wind at this point and provides no real sense of urgency. And that has really dictated much of this dispute. Aside from last minute supposed negotiations prior to the original imposition of the lockout, there simply has been NO sense of urgency on either side. They both talk a good game, but the apparent power-brokers on each side are taking their sweet-[site decorum] time getting this figured out.
Andrew Brandt of National Football Post posted an article to ESPN.com today that discussed the potential need for a new strategy on the players' front. While litigation has been the players strongest tool over the last 25 years, times are changing with the league and it's possible both sides will be stuck in a rut if the 8th Circuit rules for the owners in a few weeks.
Andrew Brandt has repeatedly pointed to the serious distrust in the owner-player labor relationship. This is an ugly, fractious, toxic relationship and long term labor peace will not happen as long as it continues. Brandt pointed to a couple of hoped-for outcomes if the owners win their appeal next month:
1. That the NFLPA's Plan B -- if the players lose on appeal -- is a willingness to move from litigation to negotiation and make a deal.
2. That the NFL -- if it wins on appeal -- uses the leverage of an indefinite lockout fairly and reasonably with its most important partner, the players, for a deal that will define their relationship for years to come. As the NFL has found out, no one wins with a one-sided agreement.
Whether you support the owners, players, or neither in this dispute, the end result of this labor dispute will provide an opportunity for both sides to try and develop some sort of long-lasting peace. The owners complained they got a raw deal in 2006, thus the reason they opted out of the CBA. There has been some rumored heavy-handed rhetoric from Jerry Richardson in terms of taking back the league and putting the players in their place with a new deal. On the players side there is talk that DeMaurice Smith is looking to make a name for himself with this and has been fully intent on using litigation to bring the players out on top.
Whether any of this is true or not, nothing is to be gained by one side taking a huge upper hand against the other side. Leverage is a valuable tool in negotiations and in my mind this litigation is all about leverage. However, just because one side has leverage does not mean they have to batter their adversary over the head with it. A fair deal for both sides can lead to a long term peace. The NFL is the golden goose of professional sports and both sides have made billions of dollars from this. A long term peace with a cooperative solution to labor issues would mean billions more for both sides in the coming years.
I realize I'm being a bit naive to think this is possible. I know plenty of union-side and management-side individuals (not in the NFL and NFLPA, but rather in non-sports union/management relationships) and one problem I notice is that parties often view these battles as black and white affairs where they're right and the other party is wrong. Of course, this leaves each side proclaiming the other party is doing exactly that and will not compromise, when in fact neither side shows a real willingness to compromise.
I ran a poll earlier this morning looking at how much of the 2011 season people thought would be lost due to the lockout. As it currently stands, 85% of you think the league will lose at least some portion of the season. A small majority think it will last into the regular season, while only 15% think a deal will be done in time to salvage the preseason and regular season.
At this point I'm steeling myself for the likelihood of a chunk of the regular season being lost. I'd like to think the parties involved could find a common ground, but giving some of the hawks on both sides, I'm not holding my breath for that. If it does happen, the parties have nobody to blame but themselves.