On Monday evening, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson has lifted the lockout the NFL owners imposed on the players back in March. The ruling is a major victory in their battle with the owners over the multi-billion dollar business.
"[T]he public ramifications of this dispute exceed the abstract principles of the antitrust laws, as professional football involves many layers of tangible economic impact, ranging from broadcast revenues down to concessions sales. And, of course, the public interest represented by the fans of professional football -- who have a strong investment in the 2011 season -- is an intangible interest that weighs against the lockout. In short, this particular employment dispute is far from a purely private argument over compensation," Nelson wrote in her ruling.
The NFL owners are vowing to appeal the ruling and request it be halted until they can make a formal argument to the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in either St. Louis, MO, or St. Paul MN.
"We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes. We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree. But we also believe that this dispute will inevitably end with a collective bargaining agreement, which would be in the best interests of players, clubs and fans. We can reach a fair agreement only if we continue negotiations toward that goal," the league said (as reported by ESPN).
The NFL is saying that Judge Nelson doesn't have jurisdiction to make the ruling, and that it was their right to institute the lockout. Nelson, of course, disagrees.
The immediate impact of this ruling for the 500-some-odd NFL player transactions (free agent and otherwise) is unknown at the moment, pending the prospective appeal from the NFL.
If the appeal for a stay is passed, we'll know more when the dates for the NFL's arguments to the court are scheduled. If the appeal is not granted, however, the NFL will be forced to open its doors to the players, and we'll have an NFL season again.
The NFL would also be forced to look into how to handle trades, free agency, and the like. With the former collective bargaining agreement that dissolved on March 11 no longer being active, that will remain a big issue.
This decision comes in the distant wake of the players requesting the lockout be halted while at an April 6th hearing. Mediation between the players and the owners was then ordered by the court, while Judge Nelson thought over the request.
The players and owners met four times to no avail in the time between the 6th and last week, when Nelson gave the two groups a break. Nelson didn't schedule the talks to resume until May 16th.
It got to the point where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn't believe that the labor disputes would be able to be settled by the courts.
"I recognize people try to get leverage in negotiations, but at the end of the day it's going to come down to the negotiations," Goodell said.
"The sooner we get to that negotiation, the better. I think the litigation has delayed those negotiations."
This ruling comes as a surprise to everyone, but until we know all the facts, we can chalk this up to a forced step forward for both the players and the owners, and most of all, the fans.