Why NFL Owners Won't Open The Books

The NFL has no legal obligation to open its books.

Gabriel Feldman, the director of Tulane University’s Sports Law program, recently provided an update from a legal standpoint on the NFL Lockout. One of the most heavily debated issues currently at the center of the CBA mess the owners unwillingness to disclose full financial information, or “open the books” as it has been coined. Feldman points out that this isn’t the same as the situation in the NBA, and legally, the owners are under no obligation to open up their books to anyone.

This has become one of the focal points of the negotiations. The owners claim they need to pay the players less because of rising costs, but they refuse to reveal the details of these costs. Whether or not this is a smart negotiating tactic, the NFL owners have no legal obligation to open up their books. Labor law is very clear on this point — as long as the owners don’t claim an “inability to pay,” the players cannot compel them to open their books. The owners can claim, however, that they are having “general economic difficulties,” as long as they don’t say “we can’t afford to pay the players.” The NBA owners, however, have previously claimed an inability to pay, so they knew the players were entitled to see the books. For the NBA, the argument is “we can’t pay.” For the NFL, the claim is “we won’t pay.” That’s the difference between open and closed books…

Can’t pay as opposed to won’t pay. Ironic the owners are the ones accusing the players of negotiations in bad faith when this all stems from a decision to renege on a deal both sides agreed on within the last five years, but that’s the owners prerogative and in this case they can do whatever they want. Now, it’s misleading to pose it as if the players have no financial information. They are allowed to audit the financial information that deals with revenue, but not with expenses. Obviously though, there’s a bit of a disconnect if you don’t trust the people you’re sitting across the table from and they expect you to take them at face value.

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