Friday morning the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from attorneys for the NFL and the artist formerly known as the NFLPA. The court will take its time issuing a decision and I would imagine that would be three to four weeks from now. The court will review the briefs submitted by both sides, as well as a transcript of Friday's oral arguments. Andrew Brandt was in attendance at the arguments and put together a nice little rundown of what was said.
The judges had plenty of questions and comments throughout the arguments. There were a few notable actions by the judges on Friday. The first was the pattern of questions. When Judge Susan Nelson heard arguments from both sides at the district court level, she focused much of her questioning on the NFL. Most people thought she would rule for the players and her questioning might have tipped her eventual opinion. On Friday, the reverse happened as the judges focused their questions on the player's attorney, Ted Olson (attorney for Bush in Bush v. Gore).
The three-judge panel had issued a 2-1 decision to continue the lockout pending the outcome of this case, and the two judges voting in favor of continuing the lockout were the ones asking Olson the most questions. It's possible the panel has tipped its hand once again and we could see a 2-1 decision for the owners. That's not a guarantee, but it's at least worth noting.
While the panel might rule for the NFL, it's also worth noting that Judge Bye indicated both sides might be displeased with the final ruling by the panel. Daniel Kaplan speculated this could mean something along the lines of the lockout being allowed to last six months. This comes from the CBA provision that permits an antitrust lawsuit to be filed six months after the labor deal expires. As PFT described it, that comes down to a sort of King Solomon-style splitting of the baby.
The final comment worth noting from yesterday's arguments came when Judge Bye remarked that the Court would not be hurt if the parties came to a settlement themselves before a decision is issued. Given the leverage a decision could give to either party, a settlement could very well be the best possible result. Even if a court decision leads to a quick return to football, a settlement in lieu of the Court's decision could provide for a more equitable deal. If either side gained additional leverage they could very well use that to pound out a much more favorable deal for themselves. In reality though, a balanced deal that favors each side is very much preferable. A supposedly one-sided deal has put the league in its current position, so let's just get a settlement and move on.