Legal Blitz: The NFL Players Association Files Collusion Case Against the NFL - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Legal Blitz: The NFL Players Association Files Collusion Case Against the NFL

Legal Blitz: The NFL Players Association Files Collusion Case Against the NFL

The National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”) has filed a collusion case against the NFL, which the union confirmed on January 18, 2011.

Union spokesman George Atallah has not commented on the exact details of the suit, but the allegations reportedly center on the lack of activity in restricted free agency last year, as free agency rules changed entering what was an uncapped season. The union will have to prove that owners conspired to keep salaries low.

The case is before special master Stephen Burbank, the same special master who reviewed the NFLPA’s complaint about the league’s TV contracts. In this case, the union said that the league’s TV contracts were set up to guarantee the NFL money even if there was a lockout in 2011, while not maximizing revenue from other seasons when the league would need to share that income with players. The union argued this violated an agreement between the NFL and NFLPA that required the NFL to make good-faith efforts to maximize revenues for both the league and for the players.  Initially, Burbank ruled for the leagueHowever, the union appealed to U.S. District Judge David Doty who reversed in favor of the NFLPA. In his ruling, Judge Doty criticized Burbank for legal errors and erroneously concluding that the NFL can act for its own interests when in fact it is bound by legal agreements to make deals that benefit both the league and the players.

If Burbank were to find collusion, either specific teams or the league as a whole will be fined, with the players victimized by the collusion to receive compensation.  Burbank’s decision would be appealable, as the NFL and the NFLPA have agreed that either party can request a review by U.S. District Judge David S. Doty, who has overseen a number of proceedings involving the NFL and the NFLPA.  He, like Burbank, is also an expert in the NFL labor disputes.In the midst of this legal action, the NFL owners and players are trying to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires in March of this year.  Among the key issues are how league revenues will be split by the players and owners moving forward; the possible move to an eighteen-game regular season; a rookie wage scale; and pensions for retired players.

As far as what the resolution to this labor conflict will be, the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell does not see it playing out in a court room. Rather, the parties entered mediation on February 17, 2011.  The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an independent U.S. government agency, has overseen negotiations thus far.

Jeremy Corapi

Jeremy Corapi is a third year student at Fordham University School of Law. He is currently the Executive Vice President of the Fordham Sports Law Forum and an Associate Editor of the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media, and Entertainment Law Journal (IPLJ). As a member of the IPLJ, he authored a student note entitled Huddle Up: Using Mediation to Help Settle the National Football League Labor Dispute published in 21 Fordham Intell. Prop. Media & Ent. L.J. 787 (2011). He has worked in several different capacities in both the sports and entertainment industries and upon graduating in May 2012, he will become an associate at Farrell Fritz, P.C.