NFL Lockout Hearing Starts Tomorrow

UPDATE:  The lawsuit that was filed by former players that is an attempt to have the courts disallow the draft has been combined with the hearing tomorrow.  Each of the plaintiffs attorneys will be given 20 minutes to argue their case.  The NFL will be given a total of 40 minutes (20 minutes for each lawsuit).

The NFL and the former NFLPA will have their first day in court tomorrow when Judge Susan Nelson opens court regarding the players case against the owners challenging the legality of the lockout.

Both parties have already submitted briefs regarding the case, specifically pointing out why the other side is wrong.  Judge Nelson has had those briefs for almost two weeks.  While it’s possible that Judge Nelson could make a ruling following arguments from both sides, it’s more likely that she will take a careful approach and render a judgement later this week.

What’s being heard?

This is not the actual case of 11 players vs. the NFL.  This will not be the start of litigation process to get to a settlement.  This is simply a hearing on the legality of the lockout brought by the 11 players.  It does have some far reaching ramifications though.  From a fan standpoint, a ruling for the players would make sense.

Judge Nelson, who could possibly make a decision tomorrow, will decide if the lockout is legal, meaning that the owners had the right to lockout the players and thus ruling that the players decertification of the NFLPA was in fact illegal, or her ruling would be that the decertification was legal and thereby the lockout is illegal.  Regardless of what happens, the losing party will file an immediate appeal to a higher court and possibly the Supreme Court.

If the players win this first judgement, they could as for a “stay” until the appeal is heard which would force the NFL to allow players back into the facilities and possibly a free agent period while the appeals process moves forward.  If that appeal is overturned, the players would then be locked out once again.

So what does this all really mean?

On the surface, not a lot right now.  This process is expected to take some time.  Judge Nelson, as stated above, could render a decision on the lockout legality tomorrow.  Some believe that she may do just that given the nature of the issue and the timing as well.  She could also render a decision that the players are currently not suffering as they claim and dismiss that argument but allow them to refile when they actually do start to suffer.  Later this summer into August or even September when a lockout would then hurt the players financially.

If the owners win this first volley and the decision is that the players decertification was illegal, then negotiations may resume in the next few weeks with the “NFLPA” back at the bargaining table.  Or they could simply sit it out until their appeals is concluded which could be another month.

Judge Nelson could order both sides to mediation to resolve the conflict which would be in the best interest of all parties, including the fans as it would force the two sides to sit back down and negotiate a deal rather than rely on a court to finalize a settlement between the attorneys representing each side.

The players would be handed a big blow if they lose the initial hearing.  The NFLPA Lockout fund that has been established over the last two years will start paying out to players later this month and would run out sometime in August.  The pressure would then be on the players to come up with a deal sooner rather than later and the advantage for the time being would go to the owners and the league.

If the owners lose and the players are allowed back to work, pending appeal, the NFL could operate under provisions assigned by the courts based on the last CBA but the owners would challenge any ruling that would allow the players to return to work while the litigation continues.  The issue here is that the players are content with letting the legal system decide the next labor agreement and the owners want to do it between themselves with no courts involved.

Either way and regardless of who anyone believes is wrong or right, the ruling by Judge Nelson sometime after tomorrow will give a good indication on who may have the upper hand in the court battle.  While fans may want to see a return to work, the players winning tomorrow could put the entire landscape of the NFL’s business model into question and eventually, we could see operations within the NFL completely changed in the future…although that is on the extreme end.

Tomorrow at least starts the process and ends over three weeks of both sides doing nothing more than pointing out why they are right and the other is wrong.

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