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NFL Players Union Decertifies

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The National Football League does not have a labor deal, nor will it have one any time soon. Players and owners could not reach a new collective bargaining agreement, and today was the last day under an extended deadline for negotiations. So, as expected, the NFL Players Union has filed to decertify.

NPR's Mike Pesca is with us.

And, Mike, let's first talk about decertification. What does this mean?

MIKE PESCA: It is an unusual verb because it is an unusual act. It is a union becoming not a union. They become a trade association. And this is a tactic that the union is employing to put some pressure on the owners, because the NFL owners, like sports owners, operate with antitrust exemptions.

And so we've just recently learned, for instance, that a few NFL players, including MVP Tom Brady, have filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. It is a way perhaps to get a court to rule against the NFL to change the balance of power on their side. It should also be noted that this tactic is so powerful that it was sort of looming over all of the negotiation. The owner of the New York Giants, John Mara, said as much when he reacted to the breakdown in talks this afternoon.

Mr. JOHN MARA (Owner, New York Giants): One thing that became painfully apparent to me during this period was that their objective was to go the litigation route. I think that they believe that that gives them the best leverage.

PESCA: John Mara is probably right, and because of this - because the union always knew that it could decertify, it explains perhaps why the mediator wasn't successful, and there was no deal before now.

SIEGEL: So what does this mean about the upcoming NFL season? How long could the impasse actually last?

PESCA: I think it would be premature - I definitely think it would be premature to say that the season will be lost or is likely to be lost. Many people who have observed this process from afar have expected it to get to this point, and many of those people say it doesn't mean that the season will be lost.

I mean, I know you hear sports media and NFL fans saying how could it get to this point? But, really, the people who observe this say it's not unusual that - even though it's unusual to decertify - it's not unexpected that it is now in court.

And so that means that once the appeals and all take place, it could be a matter of weeks before one side or another gets a firm ruling about where they stand.

SIEGEL: Well, Mike, let's talk about what it is that divides them at this point. You know, one of the big issues is whether the season should be longer, which the owners would like. How far apart are the players and the owners?

PESCA: Well, that issue of extending the season that was a means to get to the real disagreement, which was one of money. The way the NFL splits money is complicated - the actual formula - but it worked out that they make about $9 billion. And this year, it was really not 50-50, but the owners have all the math written down right here.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

PESCA: And it turns out that in the past year, the owners were making a little bit less than the union, about 4.2 billion to 4.8 billion. And the owners want to make more money next year. They want to make about $4.7 billion to the players' 4.3. So this would mean the players giving back some money, and this is why the players have always said, hey, we'll play under the same contract. Let us play. Just don't lock us out.

SIEGEL: So what happens next?

PESCA: Next, we go the court. You know, there are injunctions. We're going to get appeals. The bottom line, I think, if all you want is an NFL season, is that there is so much money to be made. Even though hard negotiation is fine, it's a negotiation. It's a way for owners or players to make more money. But being hard headed might really not be in the best interest of either side to eschew four and a half billion dollars just to get a better deal down the road.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Pesca. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

SIEGEL: NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks.

PESCA: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of music)

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.