By Scott Garbarini
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
March has a reputation for being one of the most fickle of months, a time where the weather capriciously fluctuates as winter and spring undergo a daily tug-of-war. That unpredictability usually extends to the signature sporting event of the season, with the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament routinely generating surprising outcomes and edge-of- your-seat finishes that never fail to keep us glued to our television sets.
There's also no shortage of drama pertaining to the NFL at the moment. Unfortunately, this version of March Madness is one we can all do without.
No upset came out of last week's extended labor talks, with the Players Association following through on its expected decision to decertify after failing to come to an agreement with the owners by Friday's deadline and the league subsequently imposing a lockout of the technically-dissolved union. Both inevitable moves now switch the playing field from the bargaining table to the courtroom, with the players immediately filing an injunction that challenged the work stoppage.
It's a shrewd course of action by DeMaurice Smith and his obviously unified constituents, who were able to score a major victory in the ongoing battle when U.S. District Court Judge David Doty blocked the payment of upwards of $4 billion in revenue the NFL had negotiated with its TV partners that was to be distributed in the event of a lockout. But while that strategy makes perfect sense from a business standpoint, it's also a crystal-clear indicator of where the union's true priorities lie.
By all accounts of the recent meetings between the two factions, the owners -- having had their position weakened by Doty's Mar. 1 ruling -- had offered significant concessions on several core issues, including such hot-button topics as the proposed schedule expansion and player safety concerns, while in turn coming down off the additional $1 billion figure it had initially asked for to presumably combat increased operating costs.
While just how much compromise actually existed in the league's final offer is up for debate, due to the relatively private nature of the discussions, it's at least pretty certain that the owners were amenable to making a deal prior to all hell breaking loose. And it's equally as evident that the union wanted no part of one, unless it came solely on their terms.
|The union has gone to great lengths to disguise its greed.|
That hard-line approach has revealed what we outside observers had suspected all along -- that above all else, this increasingly contentious and tiresome dispute is really all about how much money each party can get its hands on. The difference is, one side has been far more up front about its intentions than the other.
While the owners have consistently pointed out that revenue sharing is the central component of the debate through their words and deeds, the union has gone to great lengths to disguise its greed with its continued championing for increased safety measures and improvements in long-term player care. Although there's no question that those are important causes that Smith and his counsel are committed to fighting for, their actions over the past few days show those matters are still secondary to the bottom line.
Now, it's not as if the owners should be viewed as sympathetic victims of this sordid situation. After all, they created this mess with the decision to opt out of the existing collective bargaining agreement in 2008, and their staunch refusal to fully disclose financial information at the union's request has furthered the animosity and mistrust between the two groups. Still, their softened stance -- even if coerced by Doty's verdict -- in the days leading up to the deadline was one of the most positive signs in a standoff that's displayed few gestures of good faith.
The players currently own the lead in the only game the NFL may be holding for quite some time, and now seem to stand a good chance of eventually obtaining a settlement that will work in their favor, either by forcing the league's hand by gaining an injunction or if a just-filed antitrust suit they're expected to win eventually makes it to the courts.
And the real losers in that scenario? Why, the fans, of course.
Think about it. If the owners don't get their desired slice of the financial pie, you can bet they'll do everything in their power to recoup those lost funds. And if they can't take it out on the players, the only other recourse is to punish the public, whether it be by jacking up already sky-high prices on tickets, parking and concessions or by laying off staff employees -- the real casualties if a protracted work stoppage were to take place.
There is a way to fight back, however, and that's through indifference. Lower attendance and TV ratings means less revenue, which will impact the players as much as the league itself regardless of how the new arrangement of working rules is constructed.
It's a simple plan to organize, but substantially harder to actually carry out. No matter what our disdain may be for these petulant parties, who have acted so selfishly in a most turbulent of times for both the United States and beyond, will we really have the discipline and fortitude to completely turn our backs on a game that's so much a part of our lives?
Let's just hope that's a question that doesn't need to be answered. And if it does, here's to wishing the reply comes sooner rather than later.