NFL Lockout For Dummies: The 2011 Labor Dispute Explained



Yes, you’re really reading this. In the most economically distraught times America has seen since the Great Depression, a thriving, multi-billion dollar per year business’ owners and employees can’t seem to see eye to eye…

It’s millionaires battling with billionaires. So what are they fighting about? Well, lots of things. But the number one issue is clearly the money. The players want a fair percentage of the pie, while the owners want to “take back” their league.

It makes me sick to my stomach. Not because I don’t understand each side’s respective position; I do. Not because I’m against capitalism or because the thought of someone making that much money automatically dubs them a villain in my eyes; it doesn’t.

No, what makes me sick is the idea that these two sides seem willing to stick to their guns even to the point of hurting the unsung party in all of this. Have you stopped to consider the parking attendant, the beer guy, the concessions staff, security, ticketing, etc.? The list goes on and on.

Or how about the players on your team’s practice squad? Sure, those guys make a decent living too, but when the checks stop coming… Well, that’s a story that the rest of America knows all too well.

Now, we certainly don’t know if it will even get that far. And let’s hope for the NFL’s sake neither of these two sides is willing to allow that. Because I tell you this: once they cross that line, there is no turning back. Will football be dealt a fatal blow if they do? No. But the entire scenario will morph from a mere labor dispute into utterly shameful greed in the blink of an eye.

How Did We Get Here?

In 2006, the current CBA, set to expire Thursday night, was extended by the players and owners. The owners agreed to the deal by a 30-2 vote. Just two years later, in 2008, they voted unanimously to opt out of the deal on March 3, 2011.

The profit-pie in the NFL is approximately nine billion dollars annually. Currently, the owners are allowed to take one billion dollars off the top. That one billion is used to cover miscellaneous operating expenses. From there, the players get 59.6% of the remaining pie. That money comes in the form of a salary cap.

What the owners are essentially proposing is that the players get the same percentage of a smaller pie. The owners are claiming inflation and increased utilities costs as the reason behind their pay raise. Instead of taking one billion off the top, they would take 2.4 billion. This increased cut to the owners leaves the players with an approximate 18% decrease in pay. Make no mistake; Julius Peppers is not forking over 18% of his contract in that scenario. The effect of a decreased salary cap would hit rookies and free agents the hardest.

The Owner’s Side

Once upon a time, stadiums and facilities were almost always at least partially funded by taxpayer dollars. In the county’s current economic state, that practice is not considered viable anymore. Owners are essentially footing the bill for state of the art stadiums and facilities.

But keep in mind; while these owners are filthy rich, it’s not as if they’re writing a check for a billion dollar stadium down in Dallas, Texas. Those facilities are mortgaged, and anything with that kind of price tag comes at a significant risk to the owners.

They feel as if the players should have to assume a portion of that risk; as they will ultimately reap the benefits of increased revenues moving forward.

The Player’s Side

The problem the players have with that philosophy is that they are not stockholders in their team. They are an employee of that team. But more than that, they are an asset to that team. Let’s face it, fans don’t go to the stadium for the big screen TV hanging over the 50-yard line, they come to see the players play the game.

The players disagree entirely that they should be forced to assume risk associated with decisions made among ownership. In fact, when they hear the word risk, an entirely different thought comes to mind.

After all, there is an inherent risk they assume every Sunday that the owners do not; injury. As one player put it, there is a 100% injury rate in the NFL.  And while the players understand that condition going in, just as they assume it as a part of their role, the owners must assume financial risk as part of their role.

The players are not asking for anything more than they have received up to this point; the same amount of money, for the same amount of games.

What Are the Other Issues?

Aside from the money, there is a myriad of other issues actually surrounding the discussions. Many of them are meaningless and most of them are simply being used as leverage. The league’s proposed 18-game schedule will be a bargaining chip. The issues surrounding player safety will also be a bargaining chip.

But aside from those, there are other tie-ins to the money aspect. The owners claim that they are essentially headed for financial ruin under the current deal, and anything other than drastic changes would spell disaster for their franchises. The players have asked the owners to prove that case and open up their books. The owners have refused. That lack of transparency may hurt the owners moving forward, especially if this issue hits the courts.

The other main issue is implementing a rookie wage scale. While both sides agree that rookie salaries are getting out of control, they disagree on how to solve the problem. The players don’t want to lose that money; they would simply like it to be spent on proven veterans. The owners refuse to guarantee that the money saved would be spent on vested players.

So How Does All This End?

Well, let me be clear in that I don’t think it ends without football in 2011. However, it will not end tonight. Meaning, unless the players and owners agree to extend the deadline, come Friday morning, the players will literally be locked out of their facilities.

The players have already voted to decertify as a union, should it come to that. What that means is that they essentially give up their rights to collective bargaining and the union would no longer exist. Why would they do that? As long as there is a union in place the NFL is protected from an antitrust lawsuit.

If the union decertifies by the end of the day, and they would have to, players could file individual antitrust lawsuits against the NFL, stating that the owners are actively conspiring against the players and restricting trade. At that point, it’s all in the courts hands. And since the players know the owners can wait them out, they might feel it’s in their best interest to put their fate in the court system.

Exactly how this thing shakes out remains to be seen. But let’s hope, for the sake of those whose livelihoods are set to be dramatically affected by this, that these two sides can put their egos aside and reach a deal sooner rather than later…

Filed under: Interest

Tags: CBA, Labor, Lockout, NFL

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