In less than 24 hours the business of the NFL likely will come to a grinding halt, with the potential for no football in 2011.
The league’s collective bargaining agreement – the binding accord between NFL owners and players that governs the way the league is run – is set to expire at 9 p.m. PST this evening.
“As players, as coaches – pretty much everyone in the building – we hope that we don’t get locked out,” Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said during locker cleanout in January.
“We hope we are able to come to work. But we also know there’s a really good chance that it’s going to happen.”
The sides have participated in mediated talks for the past week, with little movement. And without an agreement, owners are planning on using their leverage by locking out players in order to try and force a deal, hoping the financial stress will force them to cave-in to their demands.
The NFL has not had a work stoppage since 1987, the longest streak of any of the major sports.
Several hurdles need to be cleared in order for a resolution to emerge. But the main issue is owners want players to give back about $1 billion in revenue to help cover what owners describe as league-related expenses to help grow the game, including helping to pay for privately financed stadiums in Dallas and New York.
Owners believe they gave up too much to the players in the last agreement between the two sides in 2006.
The sides currently split about $9 billion in annual revenue, with the first $1 billion going to owners. But under the owners’ current proposal, owners would receive the first $2 billion, with 60 percent of the remaining pot going to the players and 40 percent to the owners.
“The players want to play,” Seattle safety Lawyer Milloy said. “It’s the owners that want to lock us out. And that’s the message I want to let everybody on the outside know who might not know the situation. If you think the players are being greedy, it’s actually the owners’ chance to recoup some money and do whatever they want to do. We want to play football, we like the direction the league is going in, and money is being made.”
Other issues include the owners seeking an expansion to an 18-game schedule (with the elimination of two preseason games) to generate more revenue, a rookie-wage scale and better medical benefits and pension plans for retired players.
“They’re talking out of both sides of their mouth,” said offensive lineman Chester Pitts, Seattle’s union representative. “Let’s be real here. If you’re really worried and care about injuries and our well being, then lower the requirements for what it takes to vest (to qualify for retired health benefits), and increase the benefits for the injured guys, and the beat-up guys and the banged-up guys.”
NFL players must play in three consecutive games in three consecutive years in order to qualify for health benefits after football, and even then players only get the benefits for five years after their careers are over.
If an impasse lasts until September and bleeds into the regular season, then the paying customers – the fans – will suffer, and both owners and players will have to explain to the public how they can’t come to an agreement to split a pie in a sport generating so much revenue.
Seattle players have made contingency plans in the likelihood of a lockout occurring beginning tomorrow, saving their money, applying for Cobra medical benefits with team health coverage cut off and finding places to work out because they will not be allowed to use the team’s facilities.
Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne said he plans to work out at his alma mater, Texas Christian University, during the offseason with other former teammates that are in the league, including the Cardinals’ Daryl Washington and the Colts’ Jerry Hughes.
Other Seattle players likely will follow suit, heading back to their colleges for the weight training facilities and coaching that they need to stay in shape for another season.
“Hopefully they figure it out sometime soon, especially before the season starts,” Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock said.
“I can’t imagine life without football, but I mean we’re just waiting to see what happens.”