The odds that 2011 will be without a pro basketball or football season are growing stronger by the day. Both the NBA and NFL face expiring collective bargaining agreements, and the prospects of reaching a consensus in either league look bleak.
Although NBA commissioner David Stern stated he was optimistic a lockout could be avoided, the two sides remain far apart despite numerous negotiation attempts; NBPA executive director Billy Hunter was "99 percent sure" a lockout was on the horizon after meetings in November, and the gap between player and owner demands hasn't gotten any closer since.
Owners are demanding cuts in salaries, contract lengths and guarantees, annual raises, and the rookie salary scale. A group of particularly "hawkish" owners are pushing for a guaranteed minimum profit of $10 million a year. Players, on the other hand, are citing record revenues, ticket sales and TV ratings in their defense.
And the story in the NFL is even worse. The current collective bargaining agreement expires in March of 2011, and the internal deadline for coming to terms for a new one has expired. Negotiations will continue, but players are being advised to save their last three game checks, and alarmist reports are being published on the effects on unemployment of a potential lockout. Players' health care may also be cancelled as a result.
It happens every five or 10 years in some sport or another—the MLB in 1994, the NBA in 1998, and most recently the NHL in 2005. You have to go back to 1987 for a time when NFL games were cancelled due to player strikes and owners turned to replacement players. But in the aftermath of one of the country's worst economic crises, this doesn't come as a huge surprise.
Maybe players and owners will come back in the giving spirit when meetings recommence after the holidays, and all of the anxiety will subside. Or maybe not, and the Phillies' acquisition of Cliff Lee and the fate of Gator football post-Urban Meyer suddenly become that much more exciting as fans turn to other alternatives.
But after the brief hiatus, players and owners will put aside their multi-million dollar differences and come to terms with one another. And hell, maybe American sports fans will even start giving hockey and soccer a real chance in the meantime.