Court is adjourned in St. Louis. Both the NFL and the players, by way of their lawyers, wrapped up oral arguments in front of the three judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court. The judges will now deliberate the NFL's appeal of a lower court judge's decision, Judge Susan Nelson, to lift the lockout. Naturally, there are a several ins and outs of the case; I don't pretend to be an expert in labor law or antitrust law (I don't even play one on TV). The question we're all asking as fans is whether or not today's proceedings offered any hope for football sometime soon.
At this point, it's hard to imagine that the 8th Circuit will side with the players and lift the lockout. The two judges who voted against the temporary stay, Benton and Colleton, questioned the idea of the NFLPA's decertification. Questions in that vein focused on whether or not a decertified union has the grounds to press an antitrust suit. That's important as to whether or not the lockout can continue. Under the NFL argument, the lockout is a legitimate tool in a labor dispute, under the protection of the Norris-LaGuardia Act. The lockout, in their view, should stand because the end result will be a new CBA, i.e. a labor agreement...thus decertification is not legit.
Judge Nelson tossed the lockout on the grounds that they can't lockout an unorganized group of players, setting it up as an antitrust matter rather than a labor dispute. The two judges implied that the district court was wrong on those grounds.
It sounds as though the 8th Circuit will side with the owners. According to accounts from experts on the scene (Daniel Kaplan from the Sports Business Journal and Albert Brandt from the National Football Post), Judges Benton and Colleton sided with the NFL's ability to use the lockout as a labor dispute tool.
What does it mean?
It means that the 8th Circuit is likely to overrule the lower court's injunction lifting the lockout, i.e. the lockout will continue. The lockout could continue for up to a year, a full business cycle. There are still some blanks to be filled in as to what today's proceedings revealed and what happens if/when the appeals court tosses out Nelson's injunction. The big question I'm struggling with is whether or not the 8th Circuit ruling in favor of the NFL on this appeal means the antitrust case is over.
Judge Bye, the lone vote for the players on the stay, strongly encouraged the parties to negotiate now, noting that neither side will like the court's decision. That's probably the best news, especially held up against the fact that the two sides did resume settlement talks this week, without the lawyers and without trying to posture in front of the media.
We'll have more later today.