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Super Bowl is over, labor pains begin

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  February 7, 2011 03:14 PM

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Hope you enjoyed the Super Bowl because following the NFL is about to get tedious, unless you're in a fantasy labor lawyer league. The confetti from Super Bowl XLV had barely rained down from the rafters upon the Green Bay Packers before the realization hit that the next NFL game is TBA due to the pending expiration of the CBA.

The real Big Game is the labor negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Both sides lose if there is not a new collective bargaining agreement by the time the current one expires March 4. The odds of that happening are about the same as Ben Roethlisberger contributing to "The Modern Man's Guide to Chivalry," despite the spin and rosy rhetoric suddenly emanating from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and ownership.

The overwhelming question is why? The answer is because dollars and cents are overriding common sense among a segment of the owners, who accepted an unsatisfactory deal in 2006 to provide outgoing commissioner Paul Tagliabue with a parting gift.

The NFL has never been more popular or more profitable, and it defies logic that the players and the owners can't find common ground on how to split up billions of dollars. This is not the time for bickering or brinkmanship on how to carve up the proverbial gilded bird. It's the rich deciding who deserves to be richer.

Baseball might be quaintly referred to as "America's pastime" but the NFL is America's passion. All you have to do is check the great arbiter of popularity in our society: television ratings. In our fractured, fragmented, short-attention-span, instant-gratification culture, NFL football remains one of the few touchstones.

"We are concluding one of the greatest seasons in the history of the NFL," said Goodell. "It will always go down, at least until next year, as the most watched season in the history of the NFL. We thank our fans and all of the people who supported us in this great season."

Super Bowl XLV was the most-watched television program in US history, garnering 106.5 million viewers. It was a record wrap-up to a record-setting season on TV. The 2010 regular season drew 207.7 million unique viewers, according to Nielsen, making it the most-viewed in history. NFL game broadcasts were up an average of 1.3 million viewers per game. Nineteen of the 20 most-watched shows of the fall were NFL games. The Patriots set a regular-season record for household ratings in the Boston market.

Part of the focus of the CBA negotiations is the deployment of an 18-game season, which would take two exhibition games and turn them into regular-season contests (and line the coffers with more cash). However, NFL fans don't seem totally averse to watching exhibition games. The Pro Bowl, the ultimate in glorified gridiron scrimmages, garnered its highest ratings in 14 years this year. You couldn't pay me to watch the Pro Bowl on TV, but 13.4 million people tuned in of their own free will.

There are about $9 billion reasons that NFL owners shouldn't lock out players on March 4, but it's been obvious for quite some time that they've been bracing for a lockout. They plan to wait the players out with the piles of cash they have put into the lockout fund (trust me, there is such a thing) over the last couple of years. If there is a lockout it's not hard to envision players not getting serious about striking a deal until the end of the summer, when they know they won't have to slog through training camp and can still get their regular-season game checks.

The worst-case scenario is that there is a protracted stalemate and that games or an entire season is lost. In 1982, a work stoppage cost the league seven games of the regular season. The backlash from stripping the fans of football could be more considerable this time.

"That is something that they have to take into account, and they have to measure," said NFLPA president Kevin Mawae. "Are they willing to lose the fan base? Are they willing to lose that to get more already when the players are not asking for one other thing. That is what they need to answer."

Make no mistake the players would be more than happy to keep the status quo, which provides them with about 59 percent of the total football revenue. That is a signal that there should probably be some rollback that goes towards the owners.

But the owners want to remake the league in their portfolio. They don't want to split the pie more evenly. They want to take the fork away from the players. The owners, brilliant businessmen, talk about risk, but they're talking about the considerable capital investments they've made to build gleaming stadiums all across the country.

The risk for the players is not something you can quantify on a balance sheet, unless that sheet includes hospital bills.

Buckle up. This is going to be a polarizing and politicized process, evidenced by the NFLPA website heralding that Packers "union representative" Aaron Rodgers was named most valuable player of Super Bowl XLV. Nothing like politicizing the greatest triumph of Rodgers's career.

The posturing and politicking for public support on both sides is already annoying, but it is hypocritical of Goodell to chide the players' request for owners to open the books as a negotiating ploy. This is a man who said publicly that if there was not an agreement by March 4 he would lower his salary to $1.

And on and on it goes. It's hard to know who is right, when both sides are so wrong.

Ultimately, I think cooler heads will prevail and no regular season games will be missed, but not before some of the polish is taken off the NFL shield.

The Super Bowl was the league's one shining moment. Darker days are here.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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