Tomorrow, June 3rd, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals will be hearing the appeals case filed by the NFL Owners in response to Judge Susan Nelson's initial ruling to end the lockout. Even though a decision will not be made tomorrow, owners and players may be able to get a feel for how the judges may rule based on their line of questioning and comments.
This was exactly the case after the first hearing with Judge Nelson. She took a hard-line approach to questioning the owners' arguments and made several comments that indicated she did not agree with their case. This led many to feel that she was going to rule in favor of the players...which she ultimately did in a convincing manner.
The current feeling after the Eighth Circuit Court granted the owners' request for a stay of the injunction (to keep the Lockout in place) is that they will rule in favor of the owners. Here are some quotes by the 8th Circuit Panel after they ruled to grant the stay (quotes are courtesy of ESPN.com news):
"Both sides raise valid points, and this is a case in which one party or the other likely will suffer some degree of irreparable harm no matter how this court resolves the motion for a stay pending appeal," the majority wrote. "We do not agree, however, with the district court's apparent view that the balance of the equities tilts heavily in favor of the Players. The district court gave little or no weight to the harm caused to the League by an injunction issued in the midst of an ongoing dispute over terms and conditions of employment."
And this could be more crucial in indicating how they will ultimately rule:
"The district court reasoned that this case does not involve or grow out of a labor dispute because the players no longer are represented by a union," the majority wrote. "We have considerable doubt about this interpretation."
The district court refers to Judge Nelson. Whether or not this case is viewed as a labor dispute is critical to both sides. If it is viewed as "growing out of a labor dispute" , the owners have the edge. If not, the players have the edge.
The key factor in deciding if this is a labor dispute is the interpretation of the Norris-LaGuardia Act (also known as the Anti-Injunction Bill). This law bars federal courts from issuing injunctions against "nonviolent" labor disputes. Judge Nelson did not view this issue as arising from a labor dispute because, quite simply, the players dissolved their union.
The Eighth Circuit judges apparently disagree with Nelson's interpretation, which therefore would say they agree with the owners' notion that the NFLPA decertification was merely a "sham" in order to gain leverage in the courts. If they view this as a labor dispute, the owners will win the appeal.
As an interesting note, Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that some NFL owners and Roger Goodell had some type of "secret meeting" in Chicago last night. The small group of owners were reported to be Jerry Richardson, Jerry Jones, and Robert Kraft. They are considered to be the key leaders of the owners group.
This is interesting because what is so important at this juncture that would call for a face-to-face meeting? The speculation is that they are formulating a plan to enact after they get a feel for how the judges might rule based on tomorrow's hearing. The two sides are scheduled to resume court-ordered mediation on June 7th.
No matter which way it goes, the hope is that tomorrow's hearing will spur meaningful negotiations between the players and owners in the very near future and will culminate in a new CBA agreement. It would be better for both sides to agree to a deal before the Eight Circuit Court issues its ruling, which will most likely take four - six weeks.
However, I'm more concerned with what might happen if the players lose, not the owners. DeMaurice Smith seems like a man on a mission and has a serious case of tunnel vision. If they lose this appeal, he may very well appeal this all the way to the Supreme Court. If that happens, you can all but kiss the 2011 season goodbye.