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As the deadline approaches, NFL owners conclude meeting without lockout vote
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WASHINGTON (AP) — NFL owners ended their special labor meeting Wednesday night without taking any action, just 30 hours before the collective bargaining agreement with the players expires.
Most of the owners left a suburban Washington hotel Wednesday night after a three-hour meeting, canceling another session scheduled for Thursday. The owners are not required to take a lockout vote. That authority has been given to the NFL’s labor committee, which met with the union in mediated talks earlier Wednesday.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said more mediation sessions were expected.
“The committee has not made any decision as to what will happen upon expiration of the current agreement if we don’t have a new one by tomorrow night,” Aiello said.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jimmy Irsay said the owners welcomed the opportunity to be updated on negotiations, but there was little reason for them to remain in Washington as the deadline approaches.
“We had the chance to ask questions, but we didn’t break with a lockout vote or anything like that,” Irsay said.
Asked what he expected to happen heading toward the CBA’s expiration, he added: “I never have expectations, except to have A, B, C, D and E, and to always plan for F. It changes, a chessboard that moves around and things happen at unusual hours.”
Earlier Wednesday, a large group of owners and players’ union president Kevin Mawae participated in mediated contract talks for the first time. The ninth session at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service also included NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and all 10 members of the owners’ labor committee and lasted about four hours.
After the day’s early session, the NFL contingent got into a fleet of a half-dozen black SUVs and headed to Chantilly. Va., to begin filling in other owners on the status of the negotiations.
About 20 minutes after the league’s group left at 2 p.m., the NFL Players Association’s negotiators group departed on foot, walking in the direction of the union’s headquarters, a couple of blocks away. New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a member of the NFLPA executive committee, attended the mediation; like Mawae, Brees hadn’t attended this round of negotiations, which began Feb. 18. But now all members of the union’s executive committee have been present at least once.
“We’re talking,” Mawae said when he left. “It’s better than not talking.”
The CBA runs out at midnight Eastern time as Thursday becomes Friday, and among the possibilities are that the owners lock out the players or that the union decertifies. Whatever happens this week could cause the country’s most popular sport to lose regular-season games to a work stoppage for the first time since 1987. Or, perhaps, everything could be resolved by management and labor in an industry with annual revenues topping $9 billion.
NFL general counsel and lead labor negotiator Jeff Pash reiterated early Wednesday that it is possible that the league and union could agree to extend the deadline for arriving at a new CBA.
“We have to see where we are. We’ve said that’s an option. We’re not taking anything off the table,” Pash said.
Owners from the labor committee members who attended the talks Wednesday were: Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots, Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, John Mara of the New York Giants, Mike Brown of Cincinnati Bengals, Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, Dean Spanos of the San Diego Chargers, Mark Murphy of the Green Bay Packers, and Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos.
Until Mara attended Tuesday’s talks, no team owners had participated in the mediation sessions.
Because mediator George Cohen told both sides to stay silent publicly about the current talks, no one has revealed any specifics about what progress might have been made.
The biggest sticking point all along has been how to divide the league’s revenues, including what cut team owners should get up front to help cover certain costs, such as stadium construction. Under the old deal, owners got $1 billion off the top. They entered these negotiations seeking to double that.
Among the other significant topics: a rookie wage scale; the owners’ push to expand the regular season from 16 games to 18 while reducing the preseason by two games; and benefits for retired players.
While the NFL and union met for six hours Tuesday, a federal judge in Minneapolis sided with the union in a ruling about TV contract money. U.S. District Court judge David Doty overruled a special master’s Feb. 1 decision to reject the NFLPA’s request that $4 billion in 2011 payments from networks to the league be placed in escrow if there is a lockout.
“The record shows that the NFL undertook contract renegotiations to advance its own interests and harm the interests of the players,” Doty wrote in his ruling.
Doty, who has jurisdiction over NFL labor matters, said there will be a hearing to determine what should happen to that money. The date of the hearing wasn’t announced immediately.
The NFL played down the importance of Doty’s decision. The union issued a statement calling it “irrefutable evidence that owners had a premeditated plan to lock out players and fans for more than two years.”
“Given what happened last night with the Doty deal and the TV contract, it’s important that we figure out what the next step is,” Mawae said Wednesday. “Hopefully we’ll get a little bit closer to where we need to be.”
The union accused the NFL of structuring TV contracts agreed to in 2009 and 2010 so owners would be guaranteed money even if there were a work stoppage in 2011 — while not getting the most revenue possible in other seasons, when income would need to be shared with players. The union argued this violated an agreement between the sides that says the NFL must make good-faith efforts to maximize revenue for players. The NFLPA also said any work stoppage clauses in TV deals guaranteed “war chest” income for the NFL, giving it an unfair advantage in labor talks.
Pash said Wednesday that Doty’s ruling “doesn’t change the dynamic for us at all. We’ve been very clear that the television money was a loan. It’s not a payment. It’s not anything we were counting on. The decision was, frankly, not unexpected. And so it doesn’t alter our planning one iota.”