NFL loses in court but looks to fight on

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 28, 2011 - 9:34 AM

U.S. Judge Susan Richard Nelson in St. Paul reaffirmed the lockout is over, but the league is still on hold as it moves to appeal.

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (right), New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft

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Confusion still reigned throughout the NFL on the eve of Thursday's draft, even as U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson tried to clear things up by denying the owners a request for a stay on her decision to end the league's 45-day lockout on Monday.

Technically, the lockout is over, which technically it has been since Monday. Yes, the league season has begun and all 32 teams must open their doors to players or risk being held in contempt of court. However, teams aren't expected to begin signing or trading players anytime soon.

The NFL will turn quickly to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and ask for the same stay to be granted throughout an appeals process that could last into the summer. Meanwhile, Nelson's ruling does not force teams to sign free agents, trade players or complete any sort of transactions.

"Defendants are under no obligation to enter a new contract with any player," Nelson wrote.

In ruling that the NFL hadn't "met its burden for a stay pending appeal, expedited or otherwise," Nelson didn't accept the league's claim that lifting the lockout would cause irreparable harm trying to operate without a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and an antitrust exemption.

"In short, the world of 'chaos' the NFL claims it has been thrust into -- essentially the 'free-market' system this nation otherwise willfully operates under -- is not compelled by this court's order," Nelson wrote.

Nelson also suggested the owners could solve their antitrust dilemma at the negotiating table, writing there is no injunction "preventing the NFL from exercising, under its hoped-for protection of the labor laws, any of its rights to negotiate terms and conditions of employment, such as free agency."

While another courtroom loss for the league might not have an impact immediately, this ruling does take the NFL a step closer to playing the 2011 season, which Nelson considered important to players, whose careers are typically short, and the fans.

"Considering the wide-scale ramifications of a lost football season to the public weighs in favor of denying the NFL's Motion for a Stay," Nelson wrote.

Owners and players jabbed at one another via court filings throughout the day Wednesday. When the league argued that being forced to lift the lockout would put it at risk of violating antitrust laws, attorneys for the players fired back.

"If the NFL defendants are faced with a dilemma, they put themselves in that position by repeatedly imposing rules and restrictions that violate the antitrust laws," they wrote.

The NFL, however, argued that without a CBA and antitrust protection, the competitive balance that's vital to its success would be harmed by unlimited free agency and the elimination of the draft in future years.

Meanwhile, teams still preparing for the grind of a three-day draft were left to scramble together contingency plans in the event they're able to sign and trade for players at any moment.

Teams also don't know whether they'll be following rules from 2009, when there was a salary cap and less restrictive free agency, or 2010, when there was no salary camp and more free agency restrictions. They also could be told to follow a new set of rules, which could then be outdated once there's a new CBA.

It's enough to make heads spin from front offices to the league's rabid fan base. And that concerns NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"It's one of the things I don't think is healthy for the players, the clubs and, most importantly, our fans," he told reporters Wednesday night.

Goodell said the best way to restart normal league transactions without violating antitrust laws is for both sides to return to the bargaining table. The next scheduled court-ordered mediation session isn't until May 16 in Minneapolis.

James Quinn, a lawyer for the players, said free agency -- the biggest immediate question for owners and players alike -- should start immediately.

"We are evaluating the district court's decision and will advise our clubs [Thursday] morning on how to proceed," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

The NFL Players Association, now a trade group and not a union, accused the league of stalling.

"On the eve of one of the greatest fan events in sports, the players moved another step closer to bringing the fans football," spokesman George Atallah said in an e-mail. "Owners seem determined to prevent that from happening. The NFL owners are not litigating to protect the game. They're litigating to protect a lockout."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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Houston 2 FINAL
St. Louis 5
Washington 9 FINAL
Atlanta 8
Miami 5 FINAL
Boston 3
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 4 Bottom 9th Inning
Philadelphia 1
Baltimore 4 Bottom 6th Inning
Toronto 3
Detroit - LP: J. Mantiply 4 FINAL
NY Mets - WP: C. Torres 5
Cincinnati 0 Bottom 5th Inning
Chicago Cubs 0
Los Angeles 8 Bottom 4th Inning
Milwaukee 0
San Francisco 7 Top 5th Inning
Texas 2
Chicago WSox 0 Top 6th Inning
San Diego 2
Kansas City 2 Top 5th Inning
Cleveland 5
Seattle 4 Bottom 6th Inning
Los Angeles 3
Colorado 0 Bottom 5th Inning
LA Angels 2
Oakland 2 Bottom 4th Inning
Arizona 1
Pittsburgh 6:05 PM
NY Yankees
Chicago 6:00 PM
Indiana
Sacramento 6:00 PM
Orlando
Utah 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Miami 6:00 PM
Washington
Toronto 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Cleveland 6:30 PM
Atlanta
Boston 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Detroit 7:00 PM
Houston
LA Lakers 7:00 PM
Memphis
Phoenix 7:00 PM
Brooklyn
Denver 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Dallas 9:30 PM
Golden State
Columbus 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Minnesota 6:00 PM
Carolina
Buffalo 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 6:30 PM
Detroit
Edmonton 7:30 PM
Chicago
Pittsburgh 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Longwood 68 FINAL
Char Southern 60
Ark-Pine Bluff 94 FINAL
Miss Valley St 75
Southern Ill 45 FINAL
Wichita State 56
Winthrop 66 2nd Half 0:04
Radford 63
Evansville 37 2nd Half
Illinois State 31
Towson 5:00 PM
Elon
Gardner-Webb 5:00 PM
High Point
Samford 5:00 PM
UNC Greensboro
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Ball State
Bowling Green 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Brown 6:00 PM
Dartmouth
Toledo 6:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Akron 6:00 PM
Kent State
Ill-Chicago 6:00 PM
Oakland
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
Ohio
Columbia 6:00 PM
Penn
Cornell 6:00 PM
Princeton
Central Mich 6:00 PM
Western Mich
Bradley 6:05 PM
Northern Iowa
Morehead State 6:30 PM
Murray State
UNC-Asheville 7:00 PM
Coastal Carolina
Yale 7:00 PM
Harvard
Furman 7:30 PM
Citadel
Coll of Charleston 7:30 PM
Drexel
Texas Tech 8:00 PM
Baylor
Pacific 8:00 PM
San Francisco
Detroit 8:30 PM
Cleveland State
Belmont 8:30 PM
Eastern Ky
Loyola-Chicago 8:35 PM
Indiana State
Loyola Marymount 10:30 PM
Santa Clara
Chicago 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
(21) George Washington 77
Wake Forest 68 FINAL
(16) Duke 77
Furman 55 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 68
Monmouth 61 FINAL
Quinnipiac 82
Michigan State 60 FINAL
(4) Maryland 70
Belmont 65 FINAL
UT Martin 71
Arkansas 36 FINAL
(3) South Carolina 58
Mercer 56 FINAL
East Tenn St 66
Richmond 45 FINAL
Fordham 46
Miami-Florida 61 FINAL
(2) Notre Dame 77
Siena 61 FINAL
Iona 71
Washington St 48 FINAL
(9) Arizona State 67
Ark-Pine Bluff 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 51
(23) Rutgers 43 2nd Half 10:31
(24) Northwestern 48
Tennessee St 56 2nd Half 4:36
SIU-Edwardsville 55
Loyola Marymount 45 2nd Half 4:36
Gonzaga 61
(18) Texas A&M 31 2nd Half 19:01
LSU 46
Cincinnati 41 1st Half 3:36
UCF 18
Saint Josephs 5 1st Half 19:08
Dayton 2
UCLA 4:00 PM
(19) Stanford
Santa Clara 4:30 PM
San Diego
Virginia Tech 5:00 PM
(7) Florida State
SMU 5:00 PM
Memphis
Lehigh 5:05 PM
Holy Cross
Rhode Island 6:00 PM
Duquesne
North Florida 6:00 PM
(20) Fla Gulf Coast
Kennesaw St 6:00 PM
Jacksonville
USC Upstate 6:00 PM
Northern Ky
Lipscomb 6:00 PM
Stetson
Nebraska 6:00 PM
(14) Iowa
Saint Peters 6:00 PM
Marist
Navy 6:00 PM
Bucknell
Lafayette 6:00 PM
American Univ
Colgate 6:00 PM
Army
Georgia 6:00 PM
(5) Tennessee
Dartmouth 6:00 PM
Brown
Penn 6:00 PM
Columbia
(13) Princeton 6:00 PM
Cornell
Kansas 6:00 PM
Kansas State
Harvard 6:00 PM
Yale
(15) North Carolina 7:00 PM
(10) Louisville
San Jose St 7:00 PM
UNLV
Houston 7:00 PM
Tulane
Utah State 8:00 PM
Colorado State
Colorado 8:00 PM
(8) Oregon State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
Wyoming
Minnesota 8:25 PM
Ohio State
(12) Kentucky 8:25 PM
(11) Miss State
San Diego State 8:30 PM
Nevada
Niagara 8:30 PM
Fairfield
Texas Tech 8:30 PM
West Virginia
Boise State 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Washington 10:30 PM
California
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2014 preseason     
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