Pittsburgh Steelers' Dan Rooney is concerned about lack of progress in NFL labor negotiations
Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, isn’t directly involved in negotiations between NFL owners and players, but he’s concerned about the lack of progress between the sides and where that could lead.
“We should have a deal,” Rooney said Friday, speaking at Steelers headquarters to three reporters who cover the league on a national basis. “We should not let the disruption of next season happen because of a lockout, a strike, or whatever… It’s in everybody’s best interest to get a deal. The players, of course, want to play, and that’s what should happen.
“The games this year couldn’t be better. The ratings are high? So why would you step back?”
However, Rooney, who now serves as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, said owners are united in their determination to scrap the current collective-bargaining agreement, which expires in March.
“Status quo is not an option,” he said. “I just believe that [the opposing sides] could work out an agreement. There are points that could make this deal better for everyone.”
Rooney declined to address specifics of the talks, saying he wanted to leave those to the negotiators, but he expressed frustration at the glacial pace of the process.
His were the strongest-worded remarks on the issue from a team owner in months.
“I just think the negotiators should get it together and start doing what they should do, and get a deal,” he said, adding, “If they sit down and work things out, I think they could have a deal rather quickly.”
Rooney said the CBA over the years has gotten “a little too rich on one side” –- meaning the players’ side -– and indicated an agreement might have been reached sooner but for the 2008 death of Gene Upshaw, the former executive director of the NFL Players Assn.
“I think if Gene Upshaw were here, he’s someone I could talk to about this,” he said. “He’s someone who was for the game at all the time.”
Asked whether the owners’ lack of familiarity with current union head DeMaurice Smith has led to “a distrust” that’s complicating negotiations, Rooney said: “I don’t know the personalities. There is maybe distrust. Maybe dislike is a better word. But that’s beyond. You have a situation like this, you’ve got to get a deal. You’ve got to forget personalities.”
Rooney, whose late father, Art, founded the Steelers in 1933, has in past negotiations been a bridge between owners and players, and has long been regarded as an owner especially sympathetic to the interests of the players. His son, Art Rooney II, now runs the franchise on a day-to-day basis.
Unlike many owners, the elder Rooney is staunchly against expanding the regular season to 18 games, which is an issue in the current negotiations. Many players feel that would be too punishing to their bodies and would significantly shorten their careers.
“I would rather not get the money” than expand the regular season, Rooney said.
“You have a system that works, so why add them?” he said. “Now the people usually say, 'The preseason doesn’t work.’ Well, look at the preseason as the preseason and try to work that out. Don’t say you’re going to start messing with the full system.”
Asked whether he’d be in favor of playing preseason games with discounted ticket costs, as opposed to the current full-price tickets, Rooney said: “It’s bad for me to say that because they do pay it here, with no complaints. We sell out preseason games. The Steeler nation, they’re wild. They like to see the preseason games to see these kids play and how they’re going to be, start guessing who’s good.”
Rooney said he was similarly against the expansion of the regular season from 14 to 16 games in 1978.
“That worked out fine,” he said. “But there is a limit.”
-- Sam Farmer, reporting from Pittsburgh
Photo: Dan Rooney in 2009. Credit: Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press