As the confetti over Super Bowl XLV finally settles and the fans begin to look forward to free agency and their team's chances to improve in the draft, the NFL would also like to continue with business as usual.
However, the specter of a possible lockout darkens the horizon and places the 2011 season, and possibly the league's entire future, into speculation.
The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, which works with the player’s union to ensure fair business practices, expires at midnight on March 3, and the two sides of the negotiations for a new CBA seem to be at significant odds with one another.
Several points of contention lie at the heart of the negotiations: the discussion of pay rate changes for rookies, how to split the league’s revenue between owners and players, the possibility of expanding the season to 18 games, and concerns about player health and safety, to name a few.
The scheduled discussions are particularly important, because with 18 games, owners can make money with another home game for each team, but the players are almost totally opposed to the idea, claiming that the schedule’s expansion increases the chance for debilitating injuries.
Both sides have a lot at stake in these negotiations. Owners look to increase their profits, and players want to be able to make a living in a (reasonably) safe environment.
Since many teams around the league have had new stadiums built, operating costs have risen dramatically, leading to the owner’s desire to take more of the league’s profits for themselves, to the tune of twice the amount they are receiving now (currently $1 billion off the top of the league‘s profits).
This would mean that player salaries would take a significant hit (i.e., they would be making about 18 percent less than what they make now).
The players are not going to go down without a fight, however. Their main concerns are to make sure that they will still be paid well, and that they will be cared for after they retire, due to the damage that the game does to their bodies.
Brian Frederick from the Huffington Post reports, “Men who play five-plus years reportedly cut their lives short by about 20 years. And studies are showing that all the hits they're taking to the head are taking their toll—depression and Alzheimer's are much more likely for them.”
In the end, both the owners and players appear to be content to sit and wait for the other side to make a move, which spells trouble for the 2011 season. Many around the league feel that a lockout is imminent, and if the new agreement is not reached quickly, the owners may face a strike by the players.
The NFL has weathered work stoppages before, but this would be the first actual strike since 1987, when a month-long stoppage forced the cancellation of just one game that year. The NFL has never been more popular among fans, who provide a significant portion to the league's revenue.
If a lockout does occur, every side in this debate will eventually lose. The situation will only escalate as March 3 draws closer. For the NFL, the clock is ticking.