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NFL, players union are still far apart

March 2, 2011 |  1:57 pm

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Decision time is fast approaching. With the collective bargaining agreement expiring the first minute after midnight Friday morning, the NFL and the players union have yet to reach an agreement on a new deal and, by every indication, are still miles apart on how to divide the league’s $9 billion in annual revenues.

The sides met in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for a ninth day of federal mediation, with the session lasting seven hours. It could continue into Thursday.

For the first time in the mediation process, the league sent its heavy hitters -- the 10-member labor committee, co-chaired by owners Jerry Richardson (Carolina) and Pat Bowlen (Denver).

"We decided it would be a good idea for our full committee to meet with this mediation process,” Richardson said. “And our objective, of course, is to negotiate a fair agreement for the players and the teams. So far, we obviously haven't been successful. But we're optimistic in due time we will be.”

Later that afternoon, team owners convened at a hotel near Dulles Airport to discuss their options, routinely declining to speak with reporters about the status of the negotiations or where the situation might go from here.

Jeff Pash, the league’s chief counsel and lead negotiator in the labor talks, was asked by reporters whether there’s a possibility that the expiration deadline for the collective bargaining agreement could be extended.

“I think we have to see where we are,” Pash said. “We've said that's an option. So we're not taking anything off the table.”

It’s very likely the NFL Players Assn. will opt to decertify in hopes of staving off an impending lockout, leaving it up to the courts to decide whether a) the decertification is legitimate and b) whether the teams can cease football operations until a deal is reached.

Owners view a lockout as their best way of moving along negotiations, because players who are still getting paid will be less motivated to strike a deal.

If it intends to decertify, the union needs to do so before the collective bargaining agreement expires. First, it would have to wait six months to decertify if it tried to do so after the deal ended, and decertifying now gives the union the best chance of keeping its case before U.S. District Judge David Doty, who has consistently ruled in favor of the players. The NFL is determined to have its case heard by another judge.

The players landed a big punch Tuesday night when Doty ruled the owners violated the collective bargaining agreement by negotiating $4 billion in lockout insurance into their TV deals, provisions that would continue to pay them even if no games were played in 2011. The decision, which overruled one reached through arbitration, said the owners failed to maximize the potential in their TV deals in the interest of creating a war chest for themselves.

But Pash said 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,” Pash said. “It's not anything we were counting on. The decision was, frankly, not unexpected, so it doesn't alter our planning  one iota.”

-- Sam Farmer in Chantilly, Va.

Related:

Players union wins court ruling against NFL

When talking NFL labor negotiations, a primer comes in handy

Photo: The NFL logo. Credit: Tim Heitman / U.S. Presswire.

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