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3Qs: A lawyer’s-eye view of pro football’s latest victory

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

After months of negotiations between NFL owners and player representatives, the two sides agreed on a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement earlier this week. The move ended the lockout and salvaged the upcoming football season. Roger Abrams, the Richardson Professor of Law at Northeastern’s School of Law — who has taught sports law for 25 years – examines the agreement and the state of the sport.

Now that the lockout has ended, can you assess how the collective bargaining process went — its greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Collective bargaining can be very frustrating both when you are at the negotiating table or when you are simply observing the process. When the dispute involves our new “national pastime” of NFL football, it is doubly frustrating. Actually, I think the negotiations went much as expected. I had predicted a mid-July settlement when this all started in March. This was the time when a deal had to be made — when there would be a “cost of disagreement” imposed on both sides by a continued stalemate. While I am not happy that the player’s union resorted to decertification and a court action, it seems to have helped propel the parties forward. In any case, it gives me a new case to discuss in my Sports Law course.

What are the most important aspects of this new deal for the sport, and are there any concerning issues that remain unresolved?

I like the 10-year length of the agreement. This will add stability. The deal on the money is hard to evaluate because it depends upon the NFL’s gross revenues continuing to grow. The rookie salary cap is a good idea. The guys who have proven their value on the field should have a bigger share of the pie. I also like the idea of raising the floor on the team salary cap so that all players league-wide will benefit. I look forward to seeing what the parties will do with the pending legal actions — both in court and before the National Labor Relations Board. The major unresolved issue is whether this deal will be the last showdown between the parties, much like the 1994-95 baseball strike was (so far) the last work stoppage in Major League Baseball. Will the parties form a partnership? We shall see.

Sports fans voiced their frustration throughout the summer about the uncertainty of the next NFL season. Despite the fact that a deal is in place, will the off-the-field battles between the players and owners this summer have any lingering affects on the sport from the fans’ perspective?

The fans can’t wait for the first kickoff in the first meaningless pre-season game. No one missed any football — unlike during the 1987 strike — and so none of the fans should be turned off from the game. However, I think many fans will shy away from the worst of the violence in the sport, because they now know the lasting effects it has on players.