The 8th circuit court of appeals issued its ruling this morning in regard to the NFL lockout. Although at first blush it looks like a resounding win for the owners, it actually contains a lot of other opinions and rulings that could potentially act as an impetus for a new deal to get done even more quickly.
There exists in the ruling, a loophole of sorts, that would allow the players to go before Judge Susan Nelson in the event the lockout continues for a protracted period. The players would be entitled to a hearing in which Judge Nelson, a very player-friendly judge who initially ruled to end the lockout, could force teams to have to sign free agents. Essentially what the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals determined was while it is legal for the NFL to lock out players under contract, it’s illegal to lock out players that are not. Mike Florio of PFT (and a lawyer himself) breaks it down:
At pages 33 and 34 of the ruling the Eighth Circuit suggests that Judge Nelson could impose an injunction as it relates to players not under contract (i.e., free agents and rookies). To do so, however, Judge Nelson must conduct a hearing at which testimony and other evidence is introduced. This could lead to a ruling that would require the NFL to negotiate with and sign free agents and rookies, despite the existence of the lockout.
This process would unfold over a period of weeks, and it would make a messy situation even messier. As a practical matter, the prospect of a convoluted and costly court proceeding should be enough to dissuade the owners from trying to drop the hammer on the players in the wake of Friday’s ruling.
This should keep the owners from trying to leverage today’s decision too much. The players would have a very direct recourse should the owners drag their feet and throwing things back into the court system would only delay this process even more and actually start costing the owners considerable revenue. Now, this is hopefully going to inspire the sides to get things done quicker. However, if the sides don’t strike a deal and things get to the point where the players go back to the federal courts in Minneapolis, say goodbye to football in 2011.