NFL plans to appeal judge’s ruling in favor of players

The seven-week-old lockout of National Football League players was lifted Monday after a federal judge in Minnesota ruled in favor of the players.

But what seems to be a breakthrough could only be temporary. The NFL plans to appeal Judge Susan Nelson’s 89-page ruling in the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. The league will ask the court to issue a stay on the ruling that would allow the lockout to continue for 30 to 60 days.

The NFL said it is confident that federal law bars injunctions, such as the one Nelson issued, ordering an immediate end to the lockout in labor disputes. Nelson argued the injunction was necessary in order to prevent irrevocable harm to the players, who say the potential loss of an NFL season could cost them financially in the long run.

Both sides would lose in the event games are postponed or canceled, said Matthew Mitten, a professor of law and director of the National Sports Law Institute.

“Any time a professional sports league loses games because of a strike or lockout, everyone loses, particularly the fans,” Mitten said.

The current labor dispute has been ongoing for nearly three years after the NFL owners chose unanimously to opt out of the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association in May 2008. The players elected to decertify their union on March 11, hours before the collective bargaining agreement expired.

For nearly two years, the two sides have been in talks. They also have undergone 17 days of federal mediation following the decertification, largely to no avail. Among the numerous issues at stake are the possibility of expanding the regular season from 16 to 18 games, something the players consider dangerous.

But the focal point of the dispute has been how to divide up the league’s $9.4 billion in annual revenue. The players currently get a 51 percent share of that money, but owners have sought to decrease that number by about $800 million. Owners have also refused to open their financial books to the players association, something players say has prevented successful talks.

“This is very much a fight over the economic pie,” Mitten said.

Even with the lockout technically lifted, NFL players who reported to team facilities were told they weren’t allowed to work out. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell planned to instruct teams to act as if the lockout were still in effect, according an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

Nevertheless, local businesses say they haven’t been affected much by the NFL’s labor dispute.

A prominent event during the traditional football offseason is tonight’s NFL Draft of college players. This is where the first signs of the effects may appear, said Abby Lutgen, marketing manager for Roaring Fork Restaurant Group, which owns Replay Sports Bar, 2238 N. Farwell Ave.

“If the lack of free agency and activity has diminished fan interest in the league, we’ll get our first taste (during the draft),” Lutgen said in an e-mail. “Coming off of a great victory (in Super Bowl XLV) for the Packers, we think most fans are optimistic, and can’t wait to see the green and gold strike again!”

Mitten said Green Bay, the NFL’s lone publicly-owned team, should be better positioned than most clubs to deal with the lack of free agency, due to its stellar roster.

Fans, including College of Arts & Sciences freshman Thomas Carmody, just hope they can continue to watch the Packers win this fall.

“It’s completely ridiculous, and the owners should open their books if they’re so focused on keeping this revenue,” Carmody said. “I hope the season goes on, and I’m glad the judge ruled in favor of the players.”