NFL players and owners got exactly what they've wanted for more than two years -- a work stoppage.
The losers, as usual, are the fans, who will undoubtedly come running back as soon as there is an agreement, but that probably won't be for months. The misplaced loyalty of those fans is what emboldens both sides to dig their heels in and demand more money.
They know the fans will come back.
They always do.
The winners are greed and deception and deceit, which are in abundance on both sides.
Who's to blame for the current situation that some are already predicting will cause regular-season games to be canceled?
If you want to blame the millionaire players -- their average salary is $2.6 million a year -- that's fine. They walked away from the bargaining table when the owners refused their demand of full financial disclosure from the past 10 years.
Or blame the billionaire owners. The game has never been more popular or profitable. The owners already take $1 billion off the top of the $9.3 billion in revenue that the game creates for, among other things, new stadiums or improvements to existing stadiums that are in many cases at least partially financed by the public. They wanted another $1 billion and "magnanimously" said they'd split the difference.
Labor talks broke down just hours before the latest contract extension expired Friday at 11 p.m. CDT. The union had until 4 p.m. on Friday to decertify, which many are convinced they and their executive director DeMaurice Smith had planned to do from the beginning. Without a union, the NFLPA becomes a trade association, and it's left to individual players to take legal action against the owners. Several of them, including Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, have put their names to the suit.
There have been hopeful words from some owners and from Commissioner Roger Goodell, who predict a return to negotiations and no interruption of regular-season games. Others, who don't have an agenda to further, paint a bleaker picture.
Former Bears first-round draft pick and Pro Bowl defensive end Trace Armstrong played 15 years in the NFL and was president of the NFLPA for eight years. He was a finalist for the executive director position and is now an agent.
I ran into Armstrong in Indianapolis during the Scouting Combine last month and asked him when he honestly thought the labor dispute would be settled.
His reply was a fatalistic: "In September."
Despite 16 days of negotiations with a federal mediator -- and previous months of stop-and-start, almost totally unproductive bargaining -- the sides could not agree on a new deal. The league said it hadn't decided whether or not to lock out the players, who, meanwhile, went to court to request an injunction to block such a move.
By dissolving and announcing it no longer represents the players in collective bargaining, the NFL Players Association cleared the way for class-action lawsuits against the NFL, which opted out of the CBA in 2008.
"We met with the owners until about 4 o'clock (Eastern time) today," union head Smith said outside the mediator's office. "We discussed a proposal they had presented. At this time, significant differences continue to remain. We informed the owners that ... if there was going to be a request for an extension, that we asked for 10 years of audited financial information to accompany that extension."
About 15 minutes later, the union decertified.
"No one is happy where we are now," NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash said. "I think we know where the commitment was. It was a commitment to litigate all along."
A league statement added: "The union left a very good deal on the table."
In addition to splitting the difference in the original request for an additional $1 billion up front, the deal would, according to the league allow for:
• Maintaining the 16 regular-season games and four preseason games for at least two years, with any changes negotiable.
• Instituting a rookie wage scale through which money saved would be paid to veterans and retired players.
• Creating new year-round health and safety rules.
• Establishing a fund for retired players, with $82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years.
• Financial disclosure of audited league and club profitability information that is not even shared with the NFL clubs. That was proposed by the NFL this week, and rejected by the union, which began insisting in May 2009 for a complete look at the books of all 32 clubs.
When Commissioner Roger Goodell, Pash, and owners Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, Jerry Richardson of the Panthers and John Mara of the Giants emerged from Cohen's office shortly after 5 p.m., they sounded hopeful that negotiations would soon resume.
"We are prepared to come back here any time the union is ready to come back here," Pash said.
That might not be for a long time.
In the meantime, the most popular sport in the country will be in the hands of lawyers. That can't be a good thing.
Associated Press contributed
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