The NFL announced last night that it formally issued a “lockout” leaving the players, for now, without jobs and shutting down NFL business all together except for the NFL Draft in April.
The league says the lockout was a forced measure that was preempted by the NFLPA’s decertification earlier in the day. In other words, take your pick as to who you want to believe or who you don’t.
So what’s next?
The next steps are already in play as nine NFL players and one soon to be NFL player have filed an anti-trust lawsuit in Minnesota alleging that the 32 NFL teams are acting in a collusive manner. They are seeking US District Court Judge David Doty to force the NFL to end the lockout immediately and allow business to return to the NFL as soon as possible while their court litigation continues. Doty will likely rule on this Monday.
If, and it’s a big “IF”, Doty rules that the lockout is illegal because the players are non-union then business will return to the NFL and it’s conceivable that a free agency period will be instituted depending on Doty’s ruling. The NFL would likely have to implement rules for this off-season which unfortunately would further make the case for the players anti-trust suit. If the teams decide that they should act independently of each other with no rules, the players could possibly lose millions as well as benefits as each team could initiate it’s own “company” policies.
For now, the next step is the first ruling by Doty. The league is accusing the NFLPA’s decertification as a “scam” something that will be hard to prove given legalese incorporated into the first 1993 judgement CBA. Shortly after that CBA was ratified the NFL would only agree to what became the Collective Bargaining Agreement if the players agreed to re-form their union within 30 days. Specific language in that contract voided the NFL’s leverage to appeal any decertification as a “scam”.
After Judge Doty makes his first decision on the claims of both sides, fans and media will have a better idea of what we are actually facing in terms of a real work stoppage. For now, the work stoppage is just for the weekend as teams will not permit players to enter facilities until that ruling is made in the favor of the players. If Doty sides with the players that the lockout is illegal, the steps following will be up to the NFL and the 32 teams in terms of what they will be willing to do. If he rules that the lockout is legal and that the NFLPA decertification may be a “sham” then the lockout will continue as the legal process continues.
As for the NFL 2011 season, it’s still too far away to really get a solid idea of whether it will play out. The schedule is due to be released late April as normal but that won’t mean that football will be played. All of that will be determined by the rulings made over the next week or two by the presiding judge and challenges made by both parties to stop the other.