For both casual and devoted fans of any given sport, there’s no more frightening word to enter the discussion than “lockout.” Sports seasons are supposed to come and go like actual seasons, not go and then wait for extremely rich people to shake hands every couple of years.
But that’s what the NFL is headed toward, according to the executive director of the NFLPA, De Smith*. Smith was at Colts camp today and told reporters that’s what he’s expecting when the current collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011. Oh, good.
Per PRO FOOTBALL TALK:
NFLPA Executive Director De Smith told reporters in Indianapolis on Monday that he’s convinced that owners will lock out the players after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2010 season.
Smith said he still wants to know why owners opted to reopen the current labor deal two years early. For the past several months, one of the primary NFLPA talking points has centered on the refusal of the NFL to generally open the books regarding whether and to what extent the franchises are making money.
Smith also voiced his desire to find out why the owners exercised their ability to opt out of the current CBA as of the 2011 season. Maybe it’s because “because we can” isn’t a good enough reason in his eyes, though an arbitration judge would tend to disagree with Smith.
The scary aspect of this is that football could potentially not be here waiting for us with open arms in the fall of 2011, though - sorry, Mr. Smith - it’s way too early to begin raising that spectre and expect to be taken seriously. There’s a good two years to work with before a lockout can begin affecting things like rosters and practices, and the only way the lockout happens is if both sides spend the vast majority of the time not hammering out a deal.
All that said, as Florio correctly notes, there’s more that stands in the way than mere inactivity. Despite generally refusing to open up their books, owners insist that they’re either not making a profit or not making enough of a profit for a league to be worth their while. Unless they’re somehow hiding high-eight- or even nine-figure profits (and let’s be honest: that’s probably not happening), the argument holds a little clout.
At the same time, though, the NFL’s labor policies are already among the unfriendliest in professional sports. Granted, the league would probably be a financial wreck (and some teams wholly unwatchable) if contracts were guaranteed like in baseball and basketball. But at the same time, pension and disability insurance doesn’t seem to be up to par for what it would normally take to care for a longtime veteran who’s decades into retirement. And God help us all if the concussion issue keeps turning out worse for the league and its players.
It may be the case that, in an era of highly expensive health care and stadium upkeep, the days of nine-figure contracts may be in their twilight. But it may also be the case that the owners’ shrinking pockets are results of their own free-spending actions and acquisitions, not a problem that needs to be foisted back upon labor.
It’s impossible to know which side is right and which side needs to make the majority of the concessions without greater transparency from owners. It doesn’t need to turn into a PR war or even be made fully public, but the NFLPA’s got to be able to protect themselves from unverifiable claims and demands from ownership, otherwise there’s no way to prevent an objectively exploitative situation.
*It’s short for “DeMaurice,” by the way; it’s not like the nurse began writing “Desmond” on the birth certificate then fell asleep two letters into it.