NFL case hits the 8th Circuit

Today was the oral arguments in Brady v NFL, also known as the Football Apocalypse. If you’re a football fan, the result of this appeal will likely affect whether there will be professional football this year. And with the Lions seemingly on the cusp of being not embarrassing a playoff contender, now would be a horrible time for the league to decide to shut down because a bunch of billionaire owners and millionaire players can’t figure out how to split up $9 billion.

But, if it could go that far, the case could inevitably have a larger effect on labor law as the court deals with issues related to the Norris-LaGuardia Act, whether the lockout is legal, and whether the union’s decertification was a sham.  Of course, if it does go that far, we won’t be having a 2011 season. As one of the judges says near the end, we won’t be disappointed if they settle before a decision is released.

If you’re interested in hearing the oral arguments, (Hey, who can resist a good oral argument, amirite?! Certainly not some guy who dragged his 10-year old daughter in to watch) you can listen to the proceedings here. [Audio from the 8th Circuit]. You’ll hear Paul Clement representing the league and Ted Olson (yes that Ted Olson) for the players.

Forward down the field: Judge ends the Football Apocalypse … for now

Because, really, this is the biggest legal news of the last 24 hours: [Wall St. Journal]:

A federal judge in Minnesota ruled in favor of the National Football League’s players Monday, moving to end the league’s seven-week-old lockout.

New England quarterback Tom Brady, the lead plaintiff in the NFL players’ antitrust suit against the league.

In other words, less than 72 hours before the NFL Draft, our fearless Gridiron Heroes are back … for now.

But relief for the players could be temporary, as the league plans to appeal the ruling to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. It plans to ask the appeals court to issue an immediate stay that would keep the lockout in place during the 30-to-60-day period the judges are likely to take to consider the matter.

The decision can be found here, if you have the time or inclination to read all 89 pages of it. The analysis starts on page 18. The Cliff’s Notes version? The judge found the union’s decertification to be ”not a mere tactic because it results in serious consequences for the Players,” thus 1) the Norris-LaGuardia Act doesn’t preclude an injunction, and 2) the NLRB doesn’t have jurisdiction over the dispute.

If you have an interest in labor law, the history of the NLA, and NFL labor history, read away. Otherwise, I suggest you simply read Sports Illustrated’s excellent NFL guru Peter King for the layman’s version.

Of course, this dispute is over how the players and the owners will split up $9 billion. As the decision details, both the players and the teams have succeeded wildly under the current system, as the NFL might just be the healthiest professional league in the world both financially and competitively. But don’t take Judge Nelson’s word for it. From Roger Goodell, the league commissioner:

For players, the system allowed player compensation to skyrocket—pay and benefits doubled in the last 10 years alone. The system also offered players comparable economic opportunities throughout the league, from Green Bay and New Orleans to San Francisco and New York. In addition, it fostered conditions that allowed the NFL to expand by four teams, extending careers and creating jobs for hundreds of additional players.

For clubs and fans, the trade-off afforded each team a genuine opportunity to compete for the Super Bowl, greater cost certainty, and incentives to invest in the game. Those incentives translated into two dozen new and renovated stadiums and technological innovations such as the NFL Network and nfl.com.

[He doesn’t mention how much league revenues have skyrocketed and how much the cities have ponied up for those “two dozen new and renovated stadiums.” And Dan Snyder paid $800 million for the Redskins and one of those new stadiums, FedEx Field, in 1999. Today, according to Forbes, the team is worth $1.55 billion.]

Many commentators, sports and otherwise, have opined that the sides will work this out because that’s just too much money to not be able to come to an agreement. I disagree but for the same reason: it’s just too much money to make an agreement that easy. And all this is going to do is push back the process as we wait for the 8th Circuit to deal with it.