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NFL, Players Union Talks Go Into Overtime

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time now for sports.

(Soundbite of music)

Still no deal between the NFL and its players union. They'll resume talking on Monday. And, as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said while leaving negotiations yesterday, talking is better than litigating. Two deadlines have given way to two extensions of the collective bargaining agreement. Now is that a good sign for deal or should I put away my Bears jersey and start learning the names of the Montreal Alouettes? NPR's Mike Pesca joins us from New York.

Mike, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: And are these extensions just for show?

PESCA: Well, first of all I do like the idea of adopting - everyone adopting a CFL team, because the Canada Football League starts in July, so it's good insurance.

SIMON: And there're two Rough Riders to choose from remember, which I've never been able to understand how in the whole country they couldn't - eight teams they couldn't come up with two different names for Ottawa and Calgary. Burt I digress.

PESCA: Calgary's the Stampeders and one of the Rough Riders is gone. But, yeah, it always did confuse me, too.

SIMON: Boy, you do keep up on this. I'm impressed. But go ahead.

PESCA: The answer is that what the commissioner said is true, although I think that the players themselves would not mind litigation, because the players know that they have a couple of moves to make, a couple of plays in their playbook, and that perhaps going to court would be the thing that gets them the best deal.

So it is a positive sign for now that the talks have been extended for a week, but there really is no sign that the content of these talks are moving to a place where we could realistically say that a deal is nigh.

Now, of course, the situation is - it's not very complex. It's just a basic disagreement over how to split the pie, the amount of money to get. And up until this point neither side were properly incentivized - I'll say it - were not incentivized to really move off their positions.

So while people who love football are saying, oh, I can't believe it got to this point, people who know negotiations will point out that it was all but inevitable it would get to this point. And it was not until this point that we'd really see anything happen.

SIMON: Do you know the sticking points?

PESCA: Yeah. I think that, you know, we could really get into the amount of money split. There's $9 billion that's made by the NFL. And then the owners take some off the top. And then the revenue was split 60-40 at that point, with the 60 percent going to the players. And the owners would just like less.

The big problem among the owners, other than classic we want to make as much money as we can, is that the smaller teams - the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills, for instance - they're not doing nearly as well as Jerry Jones's Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants. And these teams are very worried. They're profitable now. But they worry that in the future they'll cease to be as profitable.

Whereas the players had a really great contract. They would play under the current contract. So I think it's the smaller teams that are driving -desperately driving the need to reshape the terms.

SIMON: If negotiations drag on, who gets the upper hand - the billionaire owners or the millionaire players?

PESCA: Yeah, and by the way, players - if you say millionaire players - it is true that is the median salary, but the starting salary is $325,000, which is a great salary for most Americans, but most Americans work in their jobs more than three and a half years. So I have heard some players say I'm really sick of hearing this millionaire players. I haven't heard the billionaire owners saying that, but maybe they're sick of it, too.

But I would say if it drags on what would happen is it would go to the courts, and the players have this option of decertification. Somewhat complex, but the union stops becoming a union. And at that point the owners are open to antitrust lawsuits, because the NFL really is in violation of antitrust laws, except that you're allowed to deal with a union. That's an exemption under antitrust laws.

So it's a little - it's been - that move has been described as, you know, a solid tactic that would really scare the owners. Other law professors I've talked to have described that move as perhaps a bit of a Hail Mary. But most people are saying it would be the next move.

And at least what would happen - whether it works or it doesn't work - perhaps very early the judge up there, Judge Doty in Minnesota, would give an indication of how strong each team's position is. And once the teams get a real sense of how strong their positions are then we can maybe start hammering out a deal.

And the main thing being, you know, everyone's making a really good living on that and it's very rare that a league would halt play over the issue of we're making a lot of money but we want more.

SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca.

Thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.