Law expert Roberts sheds light on sports’ labor strife

INDIANAPOLIS — As confetti rained down in Big D and Cheeseheads rejoiced in the streets of Titletown, some fans wondered if the Green Bay Packers’ victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV would be the last NFL game they’d see in 2011.
 
Labor strife in professional football could bring a lockout in March and puts the upcoming season in peril. And the NFL isn’t alone. The NBA faces a possible work stoppage next season.
 
Off-field angst is also present in the college ranks, with some questioning the legality of the Bowl Championship Series.
 
More and more in sports, some of the most important outcomes could be decided in courtrooms, rather than on playing fields.
 
Gary R. Roberts, Dean and Professor at the Indiana University Law School-Indianapolis addressed journalists and students attending the 2011 Associated Press Sports Editors Winter Conference last week, sharing his thoughts on the unrest and possible outcomes.
 
NFL
Roberts anticipates the owners will lock players out, but not necessarily on March 4. The sides agreed to mediation on Thursday, a potentially positive step. The league remains as popular and economically viable as ever. The key battle is over how to split up $9 billion in revenue. Roberts expects the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement to cost some preseason games and potentially extend into the regular season. But he anticipates any stoppage will be short. His predicted date for the sides to settle: Sept. 8.
 
“The problem is (Commissioner Roger) Goodell and (NFLPA executive director DeMaurice) Smith are labor leaders who toe the line until they get every last penny they can get,” Roberts said.
 
Should the players union decertify, things could get more complicated, according to Roberts. The influence and role of agents could change dramatically.
 
Roberts expects a new CBA to be in place before the start of the season. Should it not get hammered out, the players could choose to strike.
 
“You don’t let players decide when work stoppage will come,” Roberts said. “There has to be a lockout before next season.”
 
Roberts said he believes the NFL Draft will go on as scheduled in April and transactions between teams will continue.
 
NBA
The situation in the NBA is much more dire, Roberts said, due to a broken business model. The league’s current labor deal expires June 30.
 
“There is a strong risk to lose an entire season in the NBA,” he said. “In city after city, except Boston and L.A. and maybe Miami, almost every team is losing money. “If the NBA had a hard salary cap like the NFL, instead of a soft cap, when revenue dropped, so would salaries. Teams are spending more than they’re taking in.”
 
BCS
Asked if the BCS — which controls the way college football awards its national champion — violates antirust laws, Roberts hedged.
 
The court and venue in which the case is heard would go a long way toward determining if such a claim had a chance of being successful, Roberts said.  
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