New Season of Football in Jeopardy

Now that the Super Bowl is over and the Green Bay Packers have celebrated back in “Titletown,” attention has shifted to the 2011-2012 season. The difference this year, however, is that a season is by no means guaranteed.

The collective bargaining agreement between the NFL owners and the NFL Players Association is set to expire on March 3. The two sides have been very stubborn in their negotiations and thus far haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye. Essentially, both the owners and the players want more money.

There are a few headlining issues in these nego­tiations, the first of which is how to carve up the nine billion dollar pie of profit that the NFL nets annually. The players are campaigning for more money because each franchise is valued around $1 billion, but the average players salary is just under $2 million. Right off the bat the owners came out firing. They demanded taking $2 billion of the profit right away and spreading it out amongst themselves, leaving a $7 billion budget to fit every­thing else into. This is a one billion dollar increase from the last collective bargaining agreement, al­located strictly to the owners. Owners argue that they need this extra money in order to cope with the rising costs of purchasing and maintaining sta­diums, and the smaller details that go into running a franchise.

The second point of contention is whether of not to add two games to the regular season sched­ule. Roger Goodell wants to eliminate the four game preseason and sixteen game regular season format. Instead, he wants two preseason games with an 18 game regular season schedule. The play­ers would not have a problem with this setup but the increase in work does not correlate with a pay raise; it is coupled with a reduction in pay. Fans would be thrilled to have two more exciting regular season games and the NFL would make a signifi­cant amount of additional money. Still, the beating that the players take week in and week out cannot be ignored. More play should equal more pay.

The installment of a rookie salary cap is another controversial issue in the collective bargaining talks. First round picks have been getting paid ridiculous amounts of money with lucrative signing bonuses. The issue is not that these players don’t deserve money, but it is hard to come to terms with the fact that an unproven player can make $40 mil­lion guaranteed. For example, in the 2010 NFL Draft, Sam Bradford, the number 1 overall pick, was signed to a six-year, $78 million contract with $50 million in guaranteed money. Matthew Staf­ford was the previous number one overall pick and was signed for $6 million less and $9 million less in guaranteed money. The money it takes to sign a number one pick has gone up every year since 2003, with the exception of Jake Long in 2007. This trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down, which gives the owners a legitimate reason to want to put a cap on the amount of money a rookie can sign for. We might not see an increase in pay from Sam Bradford’s contract this upcoming draft because the top three picks aren’t projected to be quarterbacks, but that could all change in 2012.

The NFLPA has started the long process of “de­certifying” themselves. This basically means that they will disband as a formal union so that each player isn’t affiliated with the NFLPA and becomes an individual. This is a strategy against the potential lockout because the NFL can’t take action against an individual who has a contract unless they want to battle thousands of antitrust lawsuits. The NFL­PA has to decertify by March 3 or else they can’t file a lawsuit for six months. This is easy motivation for the players to quickly unite in decertification so that they don’t have to wait six months until their next paycheck. In the most recent development, the NFL has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the NFLPA based on their decertification strategy, which the NFL deems as “sham negotiat­ing”. This type of unfair negotiation strategy vio­lates their previous agreement to negotiate in good faith. In reality, this charge against the NFLPA is just the owners’ way of delaying the decertification process in hopes that it will take longer than the March 3 deadline, taking leverage away from the players. The owners have no incentive to give into the players’ demands once the deadline has expired because they are still getting paid during the offsea­son or even if the season never starts. The television contracts will still be paying millions of dollars to the NFL even if a single game isn’t being played. But the players will be sitting on a dwindling pile of cash as they inch closer and closer to caving into the owners’ demands.

It is hard to believe that the NFL owners are trying to get more money out of a system that has seen a seven billion dollar increase in profits since 1993. But, they believe that as the profits expand, so should the ratio going into their pockets.

One way or another, there will most likely be an NFL season in 2011-12. But it is still unclear as to whether or not that season will start on time, or have a 16-game format. The NFL as we know it could be completely different whenever these chaotic negotiations come to a close.