Boclair: Cash rules

Monday, March 21, 2011 at 10:05pm

Don’t make any alternate plans. Don’t push the tailgate equipment to the back of the garage. Don’t think the money you’re putting away for $8 beers should be spent on something else. 

While it seems there are any number of reasons to think that the NFL’s current labor dispute, which reached critical mass a little more than a week ago, will linger into the fall and ultimately limit — if not eliminate — the 2011 season, there’s one very good reason to believe it won’t. It’s the same reason that things have reached this point in the first place.

Money. Enough, really, for everyone.

The lockout is a relatively new concept in American professional sports. Labor disputes in the 1970s and ’80s almost exclusively were strikes in which the players (labor) were dissatisfied with conditions and walked off the job until they received concessions from the owners (management). 

The lockout, in which management is dissatisfied and shuts down operations, was employed with great success by National Hockey League owners, who shuttered their industry for the entire 2004-05 season and ultimately got much of what they wanted.

At the time, NHL owners said their labor system was broken and needed significant change. NFL owners have made the same claim recently, which is what has led people to believe that the coming season is in jeopardy. 

But there’s a major difference between the two.

According to NHL audits at the time of the lockout, 20 of the 30 franchises were losing money, many of them millions of dollars at a time. That meant two-thirds of the league’s owners were happy not to have a season because that actually benefited their respective bottom lines.

Everybody turns a profit in the NFL. Owners. Players. League officials. Television networks. Sponsors.

When it comes down to it, nobody wants to throw away money, particularly not anyone who makes millions (or billions) at a time.

Granted, the lockout is only part of this equation. Even before players were locked out, their union decertified and filed an antitrust lawsuit. Owners too filed suit, alleging unfair business practices on the part of the union/trade association — or whatever it actually is in the wake of decertification. All that does is turn this whole thing into one giant, legal arm-wrestling match.

Here in March, six months before the scheduled start of the season, both sides think big. They look at the $9 billion pool of league revenue and try to imagine how much they can cram into their coffers.

A court ruling or two likely will give one party the upper hand. That’s when negotiations will start in earnest, as there will exist a much clearer picture of what both can reasonably expect. From there, they’ll take control of their own fate and not leave it to someone else to decide the particulars as they divide their riches. 

Are players and owners greedy? You bet. This is a cash grab, plain and simple, it’s just that — for now — no one is willing to make the first move. 

Are the two sides stupid? No way. They understand that — regardless of how it turns out — the only way anyone truly loses is if all or part of the season is lost. 

At present, they’re like a pair of quarreling siblings who need to be separated. Eventually — probably a couple weeks before training camps open — they’ll get together and in no time behave as if nothing ever happened. Any lingering resentment will be erased with the first deposit. 

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Filed under: Sports
Tagged: NFL | NHL