The NFL and the NFLPA: The Significance of the Current Collective Bargaining Process and a Collection of Relevant Legal and Ethical Issues (Part 1: Introduction, Etc.)

 

And so, the dance begins... the NFL and NFLPA open their virtual tango over wages and schedules.

Introduction: A Concise Discussion of the Issues at Hand

In 1993, the NFL and players’ union (NFLPA) finalized the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) set to expire 3 March 2010 (Kaplan, 2010, p. 36).  The process – initiated by a player strike in 1987 – took approximately six years to produce the 1993 collective bargaining agreement that both sides finally deemed fair.  This time, “We just want to play football… We weren’t the ones who opted out,” according to Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas, who referred to the league’s threat to lockout the 2011 season if owner demands are not met (Dividing Line is Drawn, p. 1c).  In 2008, team owners chose not to renew and pushed for a new agreement; in fact, as of November 2010, the league has reserved $900 million to survive a lockout if arguments with the NFLPA over escalating player costs and decreased profits/net annual income outlive the current collective bargaining agreement (Kaplan, 2010, p. 36).

Essentially, both entities disagree on the following key points: owners want players to shave $1 billion off the “revenue-sharing pool, estimated at $ 8 billion annually;” an 18-game regular season schedule proposed by owners that high profile players like Tom Brady and Ray Lewis strongly oppose; replacement of the current revenue-sharing system – which allots 60% of total league revenue to players after deductions – for a lump sum over the duration of a new collective bargaining agreement (which ties in with the first point); and revisions of policies regarding rookie salary guarantees (King, 2010, p. 44-46).  Other issues also define the current NFL labor dispute, but will not be covered in this analysis for the sake of brevity and efficiency.

Methodology and Thesis Statement

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

This analysis will treat aspects of the current labor battle between the National Football League and the NFLPA.  First, we will look at a brief history of the current collective bargaining agreement signed in 1993 by looking at academic papers and newspaper articles by sources close to the league and players’ union.  An examination of future possibilities/outcomes regarding the new collective bargaining process accompanies our historical review.  Discussions of ethical issues (as perceived by both sides) help determine the strength and validity of both the owners and union’s arguments in the current collective bargaining process and form the basis of my argument in favor of the union’s position.   Finally, a conclusion section includes a look at how the NFLPA could use antitrust laws to counter league obstinacy regarding ethical issues at the core of the current collective bargaining process.

At varying points throughout this study, I will cite an audit of the Green Bay Packers’ financial statements performed by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau in 1999 as an example of NFL team financial performance in the years immediately following the 1993 collective bargaining agreement.  Unfortunately, for the sake of this study – and, ironically, the union’s purposes – financial information from the other thirty-one NFL teams is unavailable, since the other teams refuse to “open their books” to the public (laws require the publicly-owned Green Bay Packers to disclose annual financial reports).  Nevertheless, by understanding the Green Bay Packers’ financial performance in the years immediately after the 1993 CBA, one may form a basic picture of league and union arguments regarding perceived financial hardship and season expansion.  Lastly, to complement the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau’s study and assess the team’s position relative to the government’s findings, I will count on articles based on the Green Bay Packers’ financial statements published in 2010 (which detail the franchise’s performance through 2009) at different points in my study.

Since a thorough and exhaustive treatment of the entire collective bargaining

NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith

process and all underlying legal and ethical issues would be unfeasible in 10-15 pages, my objective is to provide an assessment of the current CBA’s impact on NFL culture, an overall view of key ethical issues in the current collective bargaining crisis, and an analysis of antitrust cases in sports business in my conclusions, since I recommend that the NFLPA strongly consider decertification if the NFL does not negotiate.   The last few pages contain a deep and carefully assembled bibliography containing over thirty sources I used in my analysis of the legal and ethical issues surrounding the current collective bargaining process.

Basically, I contend that: the NFLPA’s arguments prove both valid and strong when the Green Bay Packers’ financial records and league revenue numbers are considered; the league’s current push to build new stadiums contradicts its claims of “financial hardship;” and the league risks a lapse in ethics should it assert its power and force players to both receive substantial pay cuts and play longer seasons.  The NFLPA should not hesitate to decertify and sue the NFL over violations of federal antitrust laws if both parties do not agree on a deal by 3 March 2011.  The new collective bargaining agreement will, essentially, determine acceptable payment, compensation, and revenue-sharing thresholds for a sport that generated more than $8.83 billion in 2009 (Dividing Line is Drawn, p. 1c).  The results of collective bargaining will shape the league’s culture for years to come.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Read Part 3 at: Part 3

Read part 2 at: http://csbcomsportsbiz.com/2010/11/30/the-nfl-and-the-nflpa-the-significance-of-the-current-collective-bargaining-process-and-a-collection-of-relevant-legal-and-ethical-issues-part-2-a-brief-and-general-history-of-the-1993-nfl-collecti/

 

Do the players have enough leverage to negotiate a favorable deal?

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    • peter gill
    • January 7th, 2011

    Hey guys, remember the country is in the worst financial mess in its long history. How about a four year freeze on salaries or even (god forbid) a percentage cut until the worst is over. I love football and hate greed, please for the sake of the fans sort it out and compromise with some sacrifice, remember there a lot of us who no longer even have a job.

    • Dear Peter,

      Thank you for your feedback.

      What will be – to a degree – even more interesting to see is how the owners will work out all of the issues revolving around profit sharing between teams. It is terrible for the fans, as usual, when there is a labor dispute in popular sports. Hopefully, they will remain infrequent in the NFL, which has experienced very few work stoppages in its history. My prediction is that the dispute between players and owners will be resolved before the owners themselves agree on a profit sharing scheme that all deem satisfactory enough to approve. I could be wrong, but when one considers the information provided by popular media and some researchers, chances are that the CBA will not be finalized before the 3 March deadline. It’s a tough situation.

      Hmmm… I hope I’m wrong. I can’t wait to see Dallas make its next push for the Super Bowl.

      Besides, the period between seasons always feels like a long winter.

      Cheers,

      Cam.

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