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A Brief Take on the CBA Battle

Everyone knows about the tenuous negotiations between the NFLPA and the league management representing the owners.  The players want to renew the existing CBA that was enacted in 2006, and the league wants to roll back player salaries, enact a rookie wage scale, lengthen the season, shorten contracts, and increase the amount of revenue taken "off the top" by the owners before revenue sharing takes effect.  

Each side is firmly entrenched against the other, and they have good reasons for doing so.  Proposals from both ends have fallen on deaf ears, but one of the most contentious issues is the NFLPA's call for the league to reveal private financial information that would justify their demands.  The NFL has been characteristically stubborn on releasing any information beyond what is already available in the public record.

The deadline is less than 10 hours away (11:59 PM EST is the last minute before the CBA expires), and the representatives from both sides are still fighting about the majority of the issues.  Whether we'll see a new CBA, an extension, a lockout, or a decertification of the union (ultimately leading to a lengthy legal battle) is beyond anyone's predictions.  But here's how I see it...

The league and owners are the ones in the hot seat right now, and in reality have been all along.  The Player's Association wants the same deal they got 5 years ago, and has been saying for weeks that, with more information, they would be willing to discuss the owner's proposals in a more realistic sense.  The owners have flat-out refused to offer anything beyond vague descriptions, not coming even close to the union's demands.  

With limited information, the NFLPA would be bargaining in the dark, and DeMaurice Smith is completely unwilling to do that.  What about the two sides trusting one another?  That went completely out the window when the NFL's "lockout insurance" case was overturned by Judge David Doty.  The terms of the agreements between the league and their broadcast partners would have provided the owners with $4 billion worth of income, allowing the owners to continue to operate their organizations while the players were still cut off.

The NFLPA seems to have a handle on rational choice theory, and they have been using it exceptionally well.  Last week, when the CBA was set to expire (the first time), an unnamed player was quoted as saying "We're done, we're decertifying!"  The decertification of the union (aka the NFLPA's "nuclear option") would allow the players to file anti-trust lawsuits against the league, which would force any of the owners' private financial information into the light of a courtroom.  The owners definitely don't want that, and were more willing to extend the CBA (and transitively, the negotiations) than they were to allow decertification.  

Now, the choice remains the same.  The NFLPA doesn't trust the league, and the league is refusing to open up enough to the union.  The lockout insurance is gone, as is any moral high ground the NFL had to stand on.  Without the public support behind an 18-game schedule and decreased player salaries, the league has an uphill battle (for both their legal and PR departments) if they don't get a deal done today.

Forget about the amount of money involved, or how it's a case of millionaires and billionaires arguing over who gets more money than most of us will ever earn in our lifetime.  Look at the positions for both parties, and how the NFLPA has backed the owners into a corner.  The players were facing longer hours and less pay in a dangerous profession, and what were they receiving in return?  Nothing, which is exactly how much leeway the union's negotiating team has given the league.  Now, everyone's on the players' side, and time is running out.  

Barring any new developments, the union has the upper hand, and the CBA will be shaped by how stubborn the league is between now and midnight.  If they give in, the CBA will likely reflect the same one that went up in 2006.  If they hold, however, there's no way to tell until the trials start.

What do you think will happen?