Today was supposed to be a very big day for settlement negotiations. Naturally, the 8th Circuit decided to drop a bomb in the middle of the room this morning with its ruling in the NFL’s appeal. Fortunately, after everyone panicked and ran screaming, we learned that the ruling won’t blow up progress after all. For reference, here’s the full text of the ruling.
This judgment was hardly unexpected—and, unlike the ruling in the stay, I found it well-considered and properly placed within the context of the history of the two parties. The 8th circuit had come down so strongly on the side of the owners in its ruling on the stay of the injunction, there was little doubt they’d ultimately vacate Judge Nelson’s ruling. So, as expected, we’re left with the status quo—lockout.
Keep in mind, though: all this recent progress has come during the lockout, so the lockout remaining in place doesn’t change much of anything. Further, the 8th court didn’t touch the Brady v. NFL lawsuit—they purposefully didn’t address the question of whether the NFL has an antitrust exemption if there’s no union. Further yet, they noted that their reading of the Norris-LaGuardia Act bars federal courts from issuing injunctions against lockouts as well as strikes—but not, necessarily, for employers to lock out employees who aren’t in a union or under contract.
The biggest (valid (IMO)) criticism of Judge Nelson’s handling of the injunction was her decision on harms—who’d be harmed more, locked-out players, or owners forced to scramble and sign players to megabuck deals on a tight deadline? Essentially, Judge Nelson took the players’ word for it that they’d suffer mightily, and the NFL didn’t get to refute or cross-examine the testimony.
Now, the 8th circuit has remanded the case back to Judge Nelson, asking her to hold evidentiary hearings, and consider whether the NFL can lock out rookies and free agents. If she rules they can’t, we could have court-enforced free agency within a few weeks—unless, of course, the NFL appeals that ruling, too, and the saga continues . . .
. . . ultimately, this is exactly the ruling the Court promised: one neither side likes. Leverage hasn’t shifted appreciably, and there’s still a long way to go before we even get to the actual antitrust trial—let alone a final verdict. The Court is pushing the parties to settle this before it even goes back to Judge Nelson—and the joint statement released by the NFL and NFLPA shows that’s exactly what they intend to do.