You knew things were just a little too quiet following the conference call between Judge Susan Nelson, the players and the NFL. Both sides looove to talk just too much to walk away from an event like that gagged. Strangely enough, Twitter was silent for at least 48 hours, no insults, no pot shots, no jockeying for favor. Then someone talked. To ESPN's Adam Schefter, of course, revealing that Judge Nelson will order both sides back to mediation this week.
Following Wednesday's hearing, in which Judge Nelson urged both side to get back to the table, the players and the owners sent out dueling negotiating offers. The players wanted to negotiation over the antitrust suit with Nelson overseeing the matter. The NFL offered to go back to Federal mediation under George Cohen, where things broke up early in March. The key difference was court oversight. The players want it; the owners do not.
Oversight will be the key detail in the court-ordered mediation. Judge Nelson was going to hammer that and other points out over the weekend. One possibility bandied about last week was putting Cohen under the authority of the Nelson's court. That would certainly trouble owners and the league, fearing that their continued existence will be subject to court supervision, but under court order, they don't have much choice. There's also a looming date with Judge Doty in May to determine hefty damages for players in the lockout insurance case.
The real issue with court supervision is whether or not a new CBA will be subject to the court's oversight as the last one was. Negotiating that point will be as important as the arguments over cash and the cap. Without getting to lawyer-y (it helps to have a childhood friend, er, official consultant working in a federal court that specializes in class action suits), the agreement can define procedures for grievances and oversight that would offer some mode of protections for each party...the devil's in the details. If the two sides work out an equitable solution to the cap and distribution of revenues, the players really wouldn't need antitrust protection (i.e. federal court supervision) anyway.
A return to mediation probably means that the season doesn't start as quickly as it would have under an injunction. But the likelihood of a lengthy appeals process never made that a panacea anyway. Who knows how long a new round of mediation could take. It probably won't happen quickly given how far apart both sides were it broke up last time. Then again, the draft is less than three weeks away and there might be some motivation in getting a rookie salary schedule in place. Anything could happen.
It's another strange bounce in this process, but finally it looks like a favorable bounce.