NFL and the CBA: Ranking the Worst Work Stoppages in Pro Sports' History

April WeinerCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2011

NFL and the CBA: Ranking the Worst Work Stoppages in Pro Sports' History

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    WASHINGTON - MARCH 4: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to reporters after an extra day of negotiations at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service building March 4, 2011 in Washington, DC.  Representatives from the National Football League (NFL
    Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

    Since the NFL and NFLPA still have yet to agree to a new CBA, the specter of a work stoppage in the NFL this coming season still lingers.

    The NFL and other professional sports are no strangers to work stoppages. The NFL has had five work stoppages. Four of those were strikes, one was both a lockout and a strike. The MLB has had eight work stoppages. Five of those were strikes, three were lockouts.

    The NBA has had three work stoppages. All of those were lockouts. The NHL has had three work stoppages, including the most recent one in professional sports history. Two of the NHL work stoppages were lockouts and one was a strike.

    There have been almost 20 work stoppages in pro sports; however some of them only lasted a couple days and/or only occurred during the offseason.

    Here are the top 15 worst work stoppages in professional sports.

15. 1974 NFL Strike

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    In July 1974, the NFL players went on a strike. The strike was over the players wanting guaranteed salaries.

    The NFL owners did not do anything to try to end the strike, believing that it would end in court and courts would side with them. They were right about the first. After 44 days on strike, the players gave up and took it to the courts.

    The case would not be resolved for another two years. The courts sided with the players, not the owners.

    While the strike was on the longer side, lasting a month and a half, it occurred during the offseason. Luckily for Commissioner Pete Rozelle and the owners, no games needed to be cancelled or rescheduled.

14. 1992 NHL Strike

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    TORONTO - JULY 21:  NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow answers a question during a press conference announcing the NHLPA's ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement in a Toronto hotel on July 21, 2005 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Pi
    Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

    From April 1-10, 1992, the NHL players went on strike. It was led by Bob Goodenow, who had just taken over as head of the NHLPA.

    The NHLPA wanted to handle the rights to their marketing, including controlling the rights to players' images for trading cards. The players received those rights in the settlement.

     During the 10 game strike, 30 games had to be rescheduled. Additionally, NHL President John Ziegler was forced out of office as part of the settlement.

    Gil Stein replaced Ziegler as the final president of the NHL. The succeeding title would be commissioner, rather than president.

13. 1995 NBA Lockout

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  NBA Commissioner David Stern addresses the media before the start of NBA All-Star Saturday Night at Staples Center on February 19, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    The NBA owners locked out the players for 74 days in the summer of 1995. The owners wanted the players to sign a new CBA that would include a luxury tax.

    The players refused.

    The owners eventually gave up and signed an agreement that did not include the luxury tax, however the new agreement did give the option of nullifying the agreement after three years if salaries were over 51.8 percent of revenue.

    Since the lockout occurred during the offseason, no games had to be cancelled.

12. 1968 NFL Lockout and Strike

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     The NFL experienced its first work stoppage during training camp 1968.

    The crux of the issue began with the NFL-AFL merger. While the two leagues merged to become one league, NFL and AFL players continued to be represented by separate players' associations. The two players' associations were fighting for salary adjustments and long-term benefits for the players at the time.

    The owners thought they could take advantage since there was not one united front against them. They were mistaken.

    The NFLPA voted to go on strike in July 1968 and the owners decided to lock them out at the same time. A compromise was reached with the first NFL CBA, which guaranteed a $10,000 minimum salary for long-term players, $9,000 for rookies and a $1.5 million pension fund.

    However, players would not be rewarded independent arbitration options.

11. 1972 MLB Strike

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    At the beginning of the 1972 season, Major League Baseball experienced its first work stoppage. The players went on a 13 day strike in the beginning of April.

    Their complaints were over salaries and long-term benefits. They wanted the right to salary arbitration, as well as the owners to put more into a pension fund.  

    In the resulting compromise, players received salary arbitration, along with an increased pension fund.

    During the strike,  86 games were cancelled. The games were not rescheduled because the owners did not want to pay the players for games during the strike. Most teams missed an average of seven games during that time period.  

    Another consequence of the strike was that the Detroit Tigers won the AL East over the Boston Red Sox by half a game because they played one more game than the Red Sox did.

10. 1973 MLB Lockout

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    If it seemed like the disagreement between the players and owners had been resolved in 1972, it hadn't.

    During Spring Training 1973, the owners locked out the players for 12 days.

    Another 86 games had to be cancelled due to the work stoppage, although these were just spring training games. The biggest thing that the teams lost out on was conditioning and practice.

    After this compromise, salary arbitration was outlined and the minimum player salary was increased to $15,000.

9. 1976 MLB Lockout

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    The MLB experienced another work stoppage in 1976. This time it was a 17-day lockout over free agency.

    Free agency had yet to be established in the MLB. However, U.S. courts determined that pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Montreal Expos respectively, were free agents.

    This court decision helped usher free agency into the MLB.

    After the court ruling, spring training resumed and no significant games were missed. Messersmith signed with the Atlanta Braves and McNally retired.

8. 1994 NHL Lockout

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    OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 20:  NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman speaks during the 2008 NHL Panel Discussion/Commissioners Lunch at Scotiabank Place on June 20, 2008 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    In 1994, the NHL experienced another work stoppage. The owners locked out the players for 104 days.  

    The issue was over the salary cap; the owners wanted one and the players did not.

    The lockout lasted from October to January and there was no All-Star game because of it. The season was reduced to only 48 games per team, rather than the previous 84. The season ran from mid-January into the beginning of May, the first and only time that the NHL regular season overlapped into May.

    Following the lockout, the NHL and NHLPA shortened the season to 82 games. The salary cap issue was not resolved, but a rookie salary cap was instituted.

7. 1987 NFL Strike

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    1985:  Quarterback Steve Young #8 of the USFL's Los Angeles Express warms up on the field prior to a 1985 season game. (Photo by Getty Images)
    Getty Images/Getty Images

    This was the NFL's second strike in a five year period. One week of the season was cancelled, while replacement players were used for three other weeks.

     Free agency had been awarded five years earlier after the work stoppage, however it was still difficult for players to move from team to team. In fact, in that five year period that free agency supposedly existed, only one player actually moved teams.

    The players were demanding unrestricted free agency, but the owners did not acquiesce. The owners felt like they had the upper hand since the NFL was the only successful professional football league, with the USFL having just folded.

    The players eventually took it to court and were awarded unrestricted free agency in the ruling.

6. 1981 MLB Strike

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    In 1981, the MLB had another work stoppage. The players went on a 50-day strike during the summer. Over 700 games had to be rescheduled because of the strike.

    While the strike was initiated by the players, most placed the blame for the stoppage on the owners. The owners wanted compensation for free agents leaving their teams, in the form of getting another player from the team that picked up their former player.

    The players did not agree to this stipulation because they argued that then free agency did not truly exist.

    The strike ended with a compromise that included the owners getting a lesser form of compensation (a player from a pool of unsigned players) and free agency being restricted to players who had six years in their playing career.

    During the strike, players reportedly lost $4 million a week in lost wages and revenue, while cumulatively the owners lost $72 million.

5. 1990 MLB Lockout

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    CLEARWATER, FL - FEBRUARY 28:  Executive director Donald Fehr of the Major League Baseball Association talks with reporters before the Tampa Bay Rays play against the Philadelphia Phillies February 28, 2009 at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida.  (
    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    There was another work stoppage for the MLB in 1990 with a 32-day lockout during spring training. Opening day was pushed back a week and the season was extended for three days, so as not to miss any of the 162-game schedule (since that had not ended well the last time that had occurred).

    The lockout stemmed from disagreements over free agency and salary arbitration. The owners proposed that a pay-for-performance scale be enacted. Under their proposed plan, players with under six years experience would be paid based on their performance stats against opposing teams' players.

    Plus, a salary cap would be introduced.

    The head of the MLBPA, Donald Fehr, disagreed with this plan, particularly the part about the salary cap because he thought it would interfere with free agency. The lockout ended with players’ minimum salaries being increased to $100,000 and the idea of revenue sharing was investigated.

4. 1994 MLB Strike

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    ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 29:  MLB commisioner Bud Selig talks with the media at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 29, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The MLB had their last (up to this point, at least) work stoppage in 1994. It was a 232-day strike that caused 938 games to be cancelled. Also, there was no World Series for the first time in 90 years, since 1904.

    The MLB became the first professional sports league to miss its entire postseason over a work stoppage.

    The strike was once again over salary cap and arbitration disagreements. The owners wanted to institute a salary cap and eliminate salary arbitration. In the end, they did not get either.

    Instead, the new agreement instituted revenue sharing and a luxury tax.

    The ramifications of the strike included missed revenue, as well as many players who had been having excellent seasons not being able to finish them.

3. 1982 NFL Strike

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    WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 27:  National Football League Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw testifies before the US House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection about the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in profession
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    In 1982, the NFL had a strike that lasted almost two months. The NFL season was shortened from 16 games to nine.

    The strike was caused because players were unhappy with their salaries in proportion to owners’ (owners had just signed a lucrative broadcast deal that they reaped all the benefits from).

    The compromise ended with players getting retirement severance packages, five-figure bonuses and slight increases in pay.  

2. 2004 NHL Lockout

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    WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 1:  Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals 2004 first round draft pick, is introduced at a press conference September 1, 2005 at the MCI Center in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    In 2004, the NHL had a full-season lockout, the most recent work stoppage in pro sports history. It was the first time an entire season was cancelled over a labor dispute.

    The resulting agreement included a salary cap with players guaranteed 54 percent of revenue; salary floor; new free agency rules and guaranteed player contracts.

    The ramifications of the lockout were significant for the NHL. The NHL was already one of the less popular sports in the U.S. and the work stoppage did not help matters.

    In hopes of generating and regaining interest in the sport upon its return, the NHL instituted new ways to increase offensive play, as well as introducing the shootout after a five minute overtime period.

    Some say that the effects of the lockout would have been worse if superstars Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby did not enter the league following the lockout. It is difficult to measure the true effects.

1. 1998 NBA Lockout

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    13 Jan 1999: NBA Commissioner David Stern speaking about Michael Jordan during a press conference to anounce Jordans retirement at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    In 1998, the NBA owners locked out their players. The season was reduced from 82 games to 50 games per team.

    The compromise included salaries capped at $9-14 million and a rookie pay scale was introduced. 

    The 1998 NBA lockout arguably had the worst ramifications, with fans’ interest waning considerably following the lockout. CBS News and The New York Times conducted a poll of how Americans felt about the lockout.

    Most did not care; however 29 percent of Americans viewed the NBA more negatively following the lockout because they felt that both sides were too greedy.

    In fact, many would argue that the repercussions of this lockout are still being seen with a reduced interest in the league.


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