The NFL lockout goes on trial Wednesday. Technically, it's a hearing, based on the players' motion to lift the lockout on the basis that it violates antitrust law. With free agency MIA, this hearing in a Minnesota Federal court figures to be the most watched football event between the Super Bowl and the 2011 NFL Draft. A court hearing.
Consider this a very special labor edition of Random Ramsdom, a sort of primer as we get ready for the Injunction Bowl next week.
Battle of the Briefs
Before the hearing, each side filed a brief, establishing their legal arguments. The NFL's case hinges on their contention that the NFLPA's move to decertify is a "sham" and the case should be thrown out or at least delayed until the National Labor Relations Board can make a ruling. Essentially, the NFL wants players to remain a union and wage the fight outside of the courtroom.
Last week, the players filed their brief claiming that decertification was valid and that the issue should be decided in court since it requires an interpretation of the prior CBA which was forged in the same Federal court.
In the meantime, the players' side has fired a couple more arrows at owners and the league, in the form of, what else, high profile lawsuits.
The first lawsuit was filed by retired NFL players and yet-to-be NFL players. It hinges much more on the fate of draft-eligible prospects in that it argues an antitrust violation by the NFL for locking out these players whose future is inextricably linked to playing in the NFL. It's a clever maneuver since these players have yet to join the NFLPA. However, some argue that the suit means little since prospects are represented along with players in the Brady case.
Of potentially greater consequence is a claim for damages by the players in the "lockout insurance" ruling by Judge David Doty. You'll remember this case as the one that the NFL lost, the ruling saying that the NFL could not touch the money, billions of dollars, guaranteed to them regardless of a lockout via under TV contracts. Players filed a claim for damages in that suit worth an estimated three times those awarded by the courts. An exact figure isn't known publicly, but it is believed to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, a potentially serious economic blow to owners and the league. Enough to expedite negotiations? Don't hold your breath, but the case has the potential to be a third-and-long conversion for the players. That goes to court on May 12.
And we're not even getting back into the financial information debate. To get some perspective on that issue and this whole labor mess we're in, go back and read 3k's piece from last weekend.
Finally, what big game analysis would be complete without a little info on the refs? In this case, that's Judge Susan Nelson, who'll preside over the April 6 injunction hearing. In the 1990s, she worked on the team that won an antitrust case against tobacco companies for the state of Minnesota. Lots more on Nelson's background here.
That's an abbreviated roundup of where we are on the eve of the Injunction Bowl. Fifty bucks to anyone who submits photos of fans tailgating the hearing on April 6.